Lewis Fogle, who served 34 years, released while district attorney decides how to proceed
Contact: Paul Cates, 212-364-5346, cell 917-566-1294, [email protected]
(Pittsburgh, PA; August 13, 2015) – With the consent of the District Attorney, an Indiana County Judge today reversed the 1982 conviction of Lewis Fogle who has served more than 34 years for the murder of a 15-year-old girl. Recent DNA testing of newly discovered crime scene evidence excludes Fogle and points to an unidentified male as the likely perpetrator. Fogle was released from prison on an unsecured bond while the district attorney decides how to proceed with the case.
“This has been an extremely long journey for Mr. Fogle who has always maintained his innocence of the 1976 crime,” said David Loftis, Managing Attorney for the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Cardozo School of Law. “We are incredibly grateful to District Attorney Patrick Dougherty for working with us to conduct the DNA testing and for acknowledging that Mr. Fogle’s conviction should be set aside.”
On July 31,
1976, the 15-year-old murder victim’s body was discovered by a man who was picking blackberries in the woods near his home. The day before, the victim’s younger sister, who was at their home, was approached by a stranger who wanted to speak with the victim, claiming that their older brother had been injured in a car accident. After the stranger left, the sister observed the victim, who had been at a friend’s house nearby, walking home. The victim stopped to speak with the stranger and drove away with him in his car. The younger sister provided police with a description of the stranger (which did not match Fogle) and a composite sketch was made. A few days later, a man identified the man in the composite as Earl Eugene Elderkin. Over the next five years, Elderkin, who admitted himself into a psychiatric facility, was interrogated five times about the murder. It was only after his fifth interrogation, during which he was placed under hypnosis by someone with no formal training, that he implicated Fogle.
Although Elderkin claimed to have been present 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.
“Incentivized informants have contributed to 15 percent of those wrongly convicted and later proven innocent by DNA evidence,” said Marissa Bluestine, Legal Director of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which is also representing Fogle. “This type of evidence is inherently unreliable and should never serve as the sole basis for prosecuting someone.”
Fogle wrote to the Innocence Project, which agreed to represent him. Initially, 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 July of this year, the Innocence Project again asked the Indiana police to look for additional evidence that had been recovered. Twelve 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 from the public hair combings, which was submitted to testing. Fogle was excluded as the source, pointing to another male as the perpetrator of the crime.
“The DNA evidence has proven that Mr. Fogle had nothing to do with this terrible crime. Now that his conviction has been vacated, we are grateful that he will be reunited with his friends and family today,” said Loftis.
In light of this new DNA evidence, District Attorney Patrick Dougherty agreed to jointly move with the Innocence Project to vacate Fogle’s conviction. An Indiana County court granted the motion today and adjourned the case for September 14
, at which time the district attorney will decide whether to dismiss the case or retry it.