Andrew Royer secures $11.7 million wrongful conviction settlement, largest in Indiana history

ELKHART, IN – On December 22, 2023, Andrew Royer and his attorneys announced a record-breaking $11,725,000 settlement with the City of Elkhart and former Elkhart officers, the largest wrongful conviction settlement in Indiana history. In 2021 Mr. Royer was exonerated after 17 years’ wrongful imprisonment after a state court determined that his conviction was caused by egregious police and prosecutorial misconduct.

With this settlement, the City of Elkhart has paid four Elkhart exonerees — Christopher Parish, Keith Cooper, Andrew Royer, and Mack Sims — a total of $26,625,000 to settle wrongful conviction lawsuits brought by clients of Loevy + Loevy, a civil rights law firm.

Indiana courts had found that Mr. Royer’s constitutional rights were repeatedly violated through the withholding of exculpatory evidence and fabrication of false evidence.  When terminating Elkhart Police Detective Conway, the Elkhart Chief of Police remarked that Conway’s misconduct in this case “amounts to an assault upon the institution of justice.”

While the $11.725M settlement with Elkhart and some of its officers is the largest of its kind in Indiana history, Mr. Royer, 44, continues his suit against retired Elkhart County Sheriff’s Deputy Dennis Chapman, Elkhart County, and Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker.

“Andy Royer deserves the world for the serious injustice that he suffered,” said Elliot Slosar, Mr. Royer’s attorney and a partner at Loevy & Loevy. “While Andy can never get those 16 years back, with this record-breaking settlement, the City of Elkhart readily acknowledges its part in framing Andy for a crime he did not commit.”   

“It is no coincidence that Andy received the largest wrongful conviction settlement in Indiana history. Andy was among the most vulnerable in our society when he was coerced into a false confession and framed for a crime he did not commit,” Mr. Slosar said.

Prior to his wrongful arrest and conviction for a 2002 Elkhart murder, Mr. Royer had no criminal record and no physical evidence ever linked him to the crime. While Mr. Royer had nothing to do with the crime, police and a deputy prosecutor took advantage of his intellectual disability to coerce his false confession over the course of an aggressive two-day interrogation.

Lana Canen, Mr. Royer’s co-defendant, was exonerated in 2012 after the Indiana State Police Laboratory proved that a latent print found at the crime scene was not hers. At the joint 2004 trial, an Elkhart Sheriff’s Deputy falsely testified that a latent print matched Ms. Canen. Since then, Ms. Canen’s conviction was reversed and the case dismissed because expert examination determined that the latent print excluded her. Nevertheless, co-defendant Royer languished in prison for several more years. 

A four-day evidentiary hearing in the fall of 2019 exposed the egregious police misconduct, leading Kosciusko County Judge Joe Sutton to issue a 55-page ruling the following March granting Mr. Royer a new trial. Judge Sutton found that police and prosecutors repeatedly withheld exculpatory evidence, fabricated false evidence, and that Elkhart Police Department Detective Carl Conway coerced a third-party witness into providing false testimony. Judge Sutton  found that the Elkhart PD’s abusive two-day mostly unrecorded interrogation sparked Mr. Royer’s false confession.

Having considered more than 11-hours of testimony from Detective Conway, Judge Sutton concluded that: “the statements obtained from Mr. Royer are unreliable…[and] involuntary. Given the newly discovered evidence discussed infra, Mr. Royer’s unreliable statements would not result in a conviction upon retrial.” On April 2, 2020, Judge Sutton released Mr. Royer from prison on his own recognizance after 17 years of wrongful incarceration.

Despite Judge Sutton’s ruling, the State of Indiana continued to resist Mr. Royer’s quest for justice by appealing the order granting a new trial. On February 10, 2021, oral arguments were held before the Indiana Court of Appeals. Less than two months later, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the grant of a new trial and found that police and prosecutors repeatedly violated Mr. Royer’s constitutional rights by withholding exculpatory evidence at trial. State v. Royer, 166 N.E.3d 380 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021).

In a strongly-worded opinion, the Indiana Court of Appeals also determined that Detective Conway committed perjury during Mr. Royer’s 2004 criminal trial, holding that

Detective Conway withheld the truth when he attempted to bolster the reliability of Royer’s confessions by saying Royer knew details about the murder which were not known to the public. Thus, we hold that Royer was entitled to post-conviction relief due to Detective Conway’s misrepresentation to the jury that he did not feed information about the crime to Royer and the State’s reliance on Detective Conway’s denial during its closing argument to implicate Royer.

State v. Royer, 166 N.E.3d 380, 404 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021).

Given the seriousness of Detective Conway’s perjured testimony, and its central role in wrongfully convicting an innocent man, the Indiana Court of Appeals expressed serious concerns regarding his misconduct and its contribution to the erosion of public trust in law enforcement:

Detective Conway’s false testimony at Royer’s trial is particularly galling because he was an Elkhart Police Department detective at the time of Royer’s trial and, as of the evidentiary hearing on Royer’s successive petition for post-conviction relief, Detective Conway was still employed by the Elkhart Police Department overseeing the juvenile bureau and the special victim’s unit. As we have explained, 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. This type of conduct diminishes the public trust in law enforcement and is beneath the standard of conduct to be expected of any law enforcement officer.

State v. Royer, 166 N.E.3d 380, 404 (Ind. Ct. App. 2021, emphasis added).

Six days later, Lieutenant Conway was placed on Administrative Leave by the Elkhart Police Department. On September 10, 2021, Elkhart Chief of Police Kris Snyder issued a Notice of Termination to Detective Conway relating to his misconduct that led to the wrongful conviction of Mr. Royer, stating:

[Y]our conduct amounts to an assault upon the institution of justice which you swore to uphold and constitutes a violation of your oath of office. No measure of discipline for you conduct can restore your credibility within the criminal justice system. As a result, your termination is the only appropriate discipline that can be had.

Detective Conway resigned from the Elkhart Police Department prior to his termination hearing.

“Andy is just one of many individuals who has been caught up in Elkhart’s conviction-at-all-costs justice system. We hope this result gives hope to others who have found themselves in the same position as Andy, and changes the way that Elkhart treats the most vulnerable members of its community,” said Molly Campbell of Loevy & Loevy, one of Mr. Royer’s attorneys.

On July 12, 2021, the State’s motion to dismiss was granted and Mr. Royer was finally exonerated for a crime he did not commit. Mr. Royer’s exoneration was a product of a collaborative effort between innocence clinics at two different law schools, including: the Notre Dame Exoneration Justice Clinic, Indiana University McKinney Law Clinic, and the Chicago-based Exoneration Project.

In addition to Ms. Campbell and Mr. Slosar, Mr. Royer is also represented by Jon Loevy and Michael Kanovitz of Loevy & Loevy.

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