Pennsylvania Man Who Wrongly Served 34 Years Exonerated Based on New DNA Evidence
After Reinvestigation, Indiana County District Attorney Agreed to
Dismiss Indictment Against Lewis “Jim” Fogle
(Pittsburgh, PA; September 14, 2015) – After a month long reinvestigation, Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty agreed today to not retry Lewis “Jim” Fogle for the 1976 murder of a 15-year-old girl. Last month an Indiana County judge vacated Fogle’s 1982 conviction based on DNA evidence pointing to another male and released him on an unsecured bond. He was surrounded by family and friends in court today when his 34-year struggle for justice finally came to an end.
“We are grateful for the support and cooperation from District Attorney Patrick Dougherty in helping to close this extremely long and painful chapter in Mr. Fogle’s life,” said Karen Thompson, staff attorney for the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “Thirty-four years is an extremely long time to serve for a crime he didn’t commit. All people unjustly convicted of crimes should be compensated for the years lost, and Pennsylvania currently doesn’t have a mechanism for doing so.”
This case is a powerful incentive for the state to create a mechanism to adequately compensate Pennsylvanians who have been wrongly convicted.”
In 1982, Fogle was 30 years old with a new wife, an infant son, and another child on the way when he was convicted for the 1976 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl. He had become a suspect in the case after five separate police interrogations of Earl Elderkin, who was initially identified from a composite sketch as someone involved in the crime. Elderkin, who had severe psychiatric disabilities and had admitted himself into a facility, was placed under hypnosis by an amateur with no formal training during a final police interrogation that resulted in Elderkin implicating Fogle.
Although Elderkin claimed to have been present with three other men while Fogle raped the victim and later shot her, only Fogle was fully prosecuted for the crime. At the trial, there was no physical evidence linking Fogle to the crime. Other than testimony from the medical examiner who presented evidence that the victim had been sexually assaulted, the prosecution rested primarily on the testimony of three jailhouse informants who claimed that Fogle confessed to them while incarcerated. Elderkin did not testify at the trial.
Fogle, who has always maintained his innocence, testified in his own defense and asserted that he spent the afternoon with his parents and brothers and that evening went to a friend’s house and later to a bar. This timeline was supported by his parents. Despite this testimony, he was convicted and sentenced to life.
Fogle wrote to the Innocence Project, which agreed to represent him. When the Innocence Project first sought to do DNA testing in 2010, only the vaginal, anal and oral slides collected from the victim during her autopsy could be located. The district attorney consented to testing, but the results were inconclusive. In 2014, the Innocence Project again asked the Indiana police to search for additional evidence that had been recovered, and 12 additional items of evidence, including pubic hair combings and clothing that the victim was wearing, were discovered. The district attorney again consented to the testing. The lab was able to identify sperm on the pubic hair combings, and those combings were submitted to testing. Fogle was excluded as the source, which pointed to another male as the perpetrator of the crime.
“We hope what happened to Mr. Fogle won’t be repeated,” said David Loftis, managing attorney for the Innocence Project. “This day could have come five years earlier with better evidence preservation and cataloging procedures. In addition to a compensation mechanism, the state should mandate better rules for preserving and cataloging evidence to guarantee other people wrongly convicted can find justice.”
Fogle, who is now 64, endured the 34 years he wrongly spent in prison by expressing himself through his lifelong love of painting. He has completed hundreds of works of art with supplies purchased from his meager prison work compensation, some of which have even won local competitions. With little prospect of returning to the workforce and without compensation from the state, he would like to earn some money from his artwork.
“We hope the district attorney’s actions and cooperation here stand as an example of how prosecutors and defense lawyers can work together to achieve the right result,” said Marissa Bluestine, legal director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which assisted the Innocence Project in representing Fogle.
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