Anatomy of Injustice

I’ve just finished reading Raymond Bonner’s book Anatomy of Injustice, which chronicles Edward Lee Elmore’s 30 year quest for justice and a fair trial in South Carolina’s court system.  I expected the book to be boring – it was anything but.  It was a page-turner, revealing the details of how a man was accused, convicted, and kept on death row for 30 years for a murder that he likely did not commit.

Elmore was convicted three times by three different juries before his post-conviction attorneys began to investigate his case in earnest, uncovering facts that showed his convictions were the result of perjured testimony, police and prosecutorial misconduct, and thinly veiled racism.  These heroes – Diana Holt, Christopher Jensen, David Bruck, John Blume, and Billy Garrett (who defended him in his third trial), fought a system designed to keep people like Elmore convicted, and fought judges, prosecutors, and police officers who were determined to keep Elmore on death row.  Forgive me if I’ve left out some names.

After three trials and numerous appeals and post-conviction relief hearings, a South Carolina court finally found, in February 2010, that Elmore could not be executed, pursuant to Atkins v. Virginia, because Elmore was mentally retarded.  Once the Atkins issue was resolved, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals heard Elmore’s ineffective assistance of counsel claim for the first time, and granted habeas corpus in November 2011, granting him a new trial:

Having scrutinized volumes of records of Elmore’s three trials and his state PCR proceedings, we recognize that there are grave questions about whether it really was Elmore who murdered Mrs. Edwards. And we are constrained to conclude — notwithstanding the demanding strictures of § 2254(d) — that Elmore is entitled to habeas corpus relief on his Sixth Amendment claim of ineffective assistance of counsel premised on his trial lawyers’ blind acceptance of the State’s forensic evidence. All told, Elmore’s is one of those exceptional cases of “‘extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems’” where § 2254 may appropriately be used to remedy injustice. Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 786 (2011) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J., concurring in the judgment)). Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s judgment denying relief and remand for the court to award Elmore a writ of habeas corpus unless the State of South Carolina endeavors to prosecute him in a new trial within a reasonable time.

Even this wasn’t enough – Elmore was not released until February of 2012, and then only after he agreed to plead guilty to a time served sentence.  There is no justice for Elmore or for his alleged victim.  I’m not revealing anything that will detract from enjoying reading this book – Elmore was not released until after the book was written and the value of this book for the trial lawyer is in the journey, not the destination.


One Response to “Anatomy of Injustice

  • Based on the chronology given in the book (perhaps that was for convenience of the author), the 3-judge panel of the 4th Cir. ruled BEFORE the state court judge did. And apparently the Attorney General of SC was requesting an en banc “full court” hearing when the SC judge held that he was mentally retarded and could not be given the death penalty [the ultimate punishment, see the book by the same name by Scott Turow]. What happened to that appeal or request is not discussed, although the author did mention it because of the nature of the dissenting opinion of the 4th Circuit appellate judge.

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