During a two-day long interrogation, police coerced an intellectually disabled man into falsely confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.
After the Indiana Appeals Court slammed police for committing perjury and withholding evidence, Andrew Royer was exonerated last year.
SOUTH BEND, IN – Today Andrew Royer sued nine Elkhart, IN police officers and a prosecutor who he says railroaded him into spending 17 years of his life in a maximum-security prison for crimes he did not commit.
Prior to his arrest, Mr. Royer, 43, had no prior criminal record and no physical evidence linked him to one, yet he was wrongfully convicted of a 2002 murder in Elkhart. Mr. Royer had nothing to do with the crime, but police took advantage of his intellectual disability to coerce his false confession over the course of a two-day interrogation. Mr. Royer’s wrongful conviction was the product of egregious police and prosecutorial misconduct in Elkhart.
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 the latent print excluded her. Nevertheless, Mr. Royer languished in prison for several more years.
A four-day evidentiary hearing in the fall 2019 exposed egregious police misconduct. On March 31, 2020, Kosciusko County Judge Joe Sutton issued a 55-page opinion granting Mr. Royer a new trial. In this opinion, Judge Sutton found that the State repeatedly withheld exculpatory evidence, fabricated false evidence, and that Elkhart Police Department Detective Carl Conway coerced a third-party witness into providing false testimony. The trial court’s opinion likewise focused on the two-day, mostly unrecorded interrogation, that led to Mr. Royer’s false confession. Having considered more than 11-hours of testimony from Detective Conway, the court 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.” Opinion at ¶117. 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 continued to resist Mr. Royer’s quest for justice by appealing Sutton’s 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 Mr. Royer’s grant of a new trial and found that the State 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: “your 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.
On July 12, 2021, the State’s motion to dismiss was granted and he 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.
“Today begins the final chapter in Andy Royer’s journey towards justice,” said Elliot Slosar of Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law. “Tragically, Andy’s 17-year wrongful conviction was not an accident, but rather, the result of Defendants’ intentional misconduct. While Andy’s wrongful conviction is a travesty of justice, it did not occur in isolation. Andy is the fifth Elkhart exoneree, a startling statistic for a community of this size. Andy’s case demonstrates a pattern of police misconduct in the halls of the Elkhart Police Department and the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office.”
“Mr. Royer brings this lawsuit to get justice for the years lost and to hold those responsible for his wrongful conviction accountable for their egregious misconduct.” In addition to Mr. Slosar, Mr. Royer is also represented by Jon Loevy and Margaret Campbell, also of Loevy & Loevy. Loevy & Loevy Attorneys at Law is one of the largest civil rights law firms in the country with its main offices in Chicago. Over the past decade, Loevy & Loevy has won more multi-million dollar jury verdicts than any other civil rights law firm in the country. Copies of Mr. Royer’s lawsuit, Andrew Royer v. City of Elkhart, Carlton Conway, Mark Daggy, Paul Converse, Peggy Snider, Todd Thayer, Michael Sigsbee, Joel Bourdon, Brett Coppins, Dennis Chapman, Vicki E. Becker, in their individual capacities, Elkhart County, the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office, and the State of Indiana, #3:22-cv-00254, are available here. A royalty-free photo of Mr. Royer is available upon request. To receive the photo, please send an email with the subject line “Send Mr. Royer Lawsuit Materials” to firstname.lastname@example.org