Attorneys: Dismissal exonerates mentally ill man in killing

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Attorneys for a mentally disabled Indiana man whose conviction in the 2002 slaying of a 94-year-old woman was overturned last year say a judge’s recent dismissal of the case means he has been exonerated.

Andrew Royer was freed from prison in April 2020 following more than 15 years of incarceration after a special judge overturned his conviction in Helen Sailor’s killing. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling in April, finding that Royer, now 46, did not receive a fair trial.

On Wednesday, two days after a judge dismissed the case against Royer, his attorneys declared that his legal saga was finally over.

“Andy Royer stands before you an exonerated man. When the state dismissed our case, our prayers were collectively answered,” his attorney, Elliot Slosar, said at a news conference in South Bend.

Royer, who attended Wednesday’s news conference with his mother and stepfather, said he felt like a “whole different person” after so many years of incarceration.

Royer’s attorney had filed an appeal in June 2018 seeking to overturn his conviction, arguing that his murder confession in Sailor’s slaying was coerced. Sailor was found strangled in November 2002 in her apartment in the northern Indiana city of Elkhart.

A jury convicted Royer of murder in 2005 and he was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

In the April decision, a panel of judges on the state appeals court found that the Elkhart police detective who interrogated Royer disregarded his mental disability and fed him details of Sailor’s murder.

That detective was removed from the Elkhart homicide unit prior to Royer’s trial, and this information constituted newly discovered evidence, the court said.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker requested in June that the charges be dropped.

While the case was dismissed “without prejudice” — meaning Becker could re-file charges — she said Wednesday that “additional investigation would need to be done before I use the finite resources of the state to go forward” again with charges.

“Mr. Royer is innocent at this point, and there are no criminal charges pending against him,” she told the South Bend Tribune.

According to the Notre Dame Law School Exoneration Justice Clinic, which assisted Royer’s attorneys, police took advantage of his intellectual disability to coerce his false confession during a two-day interrogation. The clinic called his conviction a product of “gross police and prosecutorial misconduct.”

Royer’s co-defendant, Lana Canen, was also convicted in Sailor’s killing. She was released in 2012 after a detective recanted his testimony that linked her to the case based on fingerprint evidence.

A witness who had implicated Canen and Royer in the slaying later recanted, saying that police pressured her to make a statement.