A man with developmental disabilities who spent more than 16 years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder has reached a settlement of $11,725,000 with the city of Elkhart, Ind., his lawyers said on Friday.
The man, Andrew Royer, said that when he first learned of the settlement he “went numb.”
“I’m a brand-new person,” Mr. Royer, 48, said in an interview on Saturday. “I’m ecstatic.”
A jury convicted Mr. Royer in the 2002 killing of a 94-year-old woman, Helen Sailor, who had been found strangled in a high-rise apartment in downtown Elkhart. Mr. Royer was sentenced to 55 years in prison.
Law enforcement officials said it was a burglary that had turned violent, but there were issues with the prosecution’s case from the beginning.
Mr. Royer’s lawyers argued on appeal that he was interrogated for two days and was coerced into giving a false confession without a lawyer.
In Mr. Royer’s confession, he seemed unsure of many details, the Indy Star reported in 2017. Also, there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime.
Lana Canen, a co-defendant and a friend of Mr. Royer’s, had her conviction overturned in 2012.
At the initial trial, Dennis Chapman, a detective with Elkhart County, provided evidence that a fingerprint of Ms. Canen’s was found at the crime scene. When an appellate lawyer had the fingerprint re-examined, it didn’t match.
A witness who placed Ms. Canen and Mr. Royer in the victim’s apartment later recanted her testimony and said she was coerced by the police.
“Sometimes I feel guilty — I don’t want to go back, but I feel like, why am I out and not him?” Ms. Canen told the IndyStar in 2017. “Because I know he didn’t do it.”
In March 2020, Mr. Royer was granted a new trial after a judge ruled that the statements obtained from Mr. Royer were “unreliable” and “involuntary.” The next month, Mr. Royer was released from prison.
“We had lost hope,” Jeannie Pennington, Mr. Royer’s mother, said on Saturday. “We didn’t think it would ever happen.”
The state appealed the ruling, and in April 2021 the Indiana Court of Appeals issued a blistering decision that upheld the lower court ruling for a new trial.
The appellate court said the investigating detective, Carlton Conway, gave false testimony at the initial trial when he said he did not lead Mr. Royer into repeating crime scene details and that Mr. Royer had offered them up on his own, without prompting by the police.
The court said Mr. Conway “withheld the truth.”
“When law enforcement officers lie under oath, they ignore their publicly funded training, betray their oath of office and signal to the public at large that perjury is something not to be taken seriously,” the court wrote in its decision.
Mr. Conway resigned months later, after the Elkhart police chief sought to have him fired. In July 2021, the state filed a motion to dismiss the case. No other arrests have been made in the killing of Ms. Sailor.
Ms. Pennington said of her son that it had been “just wonderful for me to watch him turn into a wonderful man.”
“When he came out in 2020, it was a perfect time because everything was shut down,” Ms. Pennington said. “And as everything opened up, so did he. He kind of came along with the process. And so he didn’t have all those problems that people have coming out about the introduction to society all at once and everything.”
A representative for the city of Elkhart did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday. In a statement to the IndyStar, Mayor Rod Roberson said, “The Roberson administration and the police department have been committed to positive relationship-building with the Elkhart community.”
Elkhart last year reached a $7.5 million settlement with Keith Cooper over his wrongful 1997 conviction in a robbery for which he was sentenced to prison for more than eight years.
Mr. Royer, who lives in Goshen, Ind., said that since being released from prison he had been taking trips with his church to rebuild houses in disaster recovery areas.
“It took me a while to get used to it,” Mr. Royer said of his freedom. “But I’m better off now, and I’ve got family with me. I’m not in the gloom anymore.”