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Edward Lee Elmore

Aired March 15, 2014 - 22:00   ET



SUSAN SARANDON, NARRATOR: On this episode of DEATH ROW STORIES, a white woman is brutally murdered.

GARY VANLERBERGHE, DETECTIVE: Blood splat on the wall. At the time the crime scene was just unbelievable.

SARANDON: And a black man is arrested.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: His fingerprint was found. There were a number of hairs on the victim's bed.

SARANDON: But after a death sentence a law intern has her doubts.

DIANA HOLT, APPELLATE ATTORNEY: There was something wrong. I started seeing what the lies were.

SARANDON: And the case begins to unravel.

BISHOP EMANUEL SPEARMAN, PASTOR: There are those that have a hidden agenda.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it a fair trial of somebody's life?

BRIAN KING, JOURNALIST: Corruption is the theme of the day almost.

HOLT: There was no way I was going to let this case go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a body in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was butchered and murdered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people proclaim their innocence.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this case there are a number of things that stink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This man is remorseless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He needs to pay for it with his life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The electric chair flashed in front of my eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get a conviction at all costs. Let the truth fall where it may. (END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good evening and welcome to Carolina. Tonight we're coming to you from the city of Greenwood, a diverse city and one that has the distinction of having the widest main street in the world.

KING: Greenwood is a very small community. Everybody seems to know everybody. We're related to everybody here. It is very tight knit. So when the news came out about this horrendous murder, it was devastating.

SARANDON: On a cold Monday morning in 1982, the bruised and beaten body of 75-year-old Dorothy Edwards was discovered in this upscale home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dorothy Edwards, she was just a loved woman in the community. And she had been horribly killed.

SARANDON: Dorothy was known as a graceful and charming woman with a beautiful singing voice and a wonderful sense of humor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next door neighbor, Mr. Holloway, had noticed a couple of newspapers had piled up and he went over to check on her.

SARANDON: On January 19th, 1982, inside the home Holloway told police he found signs of struggle everywhere. A heavy glass ashtray shattered on the living room floor. A pair of bloody ice tongs. Dorothy Edwards was found dead in her closet.

VANLERBERGHE: The brutality of the crime scene, the blood, the way the body was, and the stab wounds, post mortem was just totally unbelievable.

SARANDON: Dorothy's body had 52 wounds, 11 broken ribs and abrasions on her vagina.

GEDDES ANDERSON, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And the state forensic team gathered what evidence was inside the home. Hair samples, they say, were found on the bed, blood in various places, outside there were some fingerprints.

SARANDON: And a crime scene wiped clean of finger prints. Police believe the killer made a mistake. A thumb print found on the backdoor.

Dorothy's neighbor James Holloway told police that Edward Lee Elmore, a 23-year-old handyman, worked for Dorothy from time to time. Although Elmore had never been convicted of a felony, police matched his fingerprints from other misdemeanor arrests and issued a warrant to bring him in. Accusing him of murder and rape, among lesser charges.

Greenwood Police went looking for Elmore 36 hours after Dorothy's body was found. VANLERBERGHE: I was working second shift with the detective division and the call came in saying the suspect was ex-girlfriend Mary's apartment. I went up and knocked on the door.

SARANDON: The encounter was not what Detective Vanlerberghe expected.

VANLERBERGHE: I told him that we had a warrant for his arrest. And I told him it was for murder. His demeanor at that time was so nonchalant. He's, oh, OK, which is totally out of context for anybody I've ever dealt with before in a situation like that. No outburst or violent behavior. Just, like, oh, well.

SARANDON: Police took hair and blood samples and placed them in the county jail house. Even Elmore's public defender had doubts about his innocence.

ANDERSON: Many people will proclaim constantly their innocence and I cannot remember Mr. Elmore vociferously proclaiming his innocence and I got the feeling that there might be something for him to hide.

SARANDON: Elmore's case came to trial only 82 days after his arrest. Prosecutors said Dorothy had been killed on Saturday night when Elmore was alone and had no alibi.

ANDERSON: You want to find out whether or not Mr. Elmore had any alibis. And we found none. And Mr. Elmore, he was not very cooperative. He wouldn't hardly talk to me.

SARANDON: Police found small spots of blood matching Dorothy's blood tape on Elmore's pants and shoes.

ANDERSON: Back in the '80s, the DNA analysis had not been developed. When DNA was available it came back positive that it was the victim's blood.

SARANDON: Prosecutors also told the jury that dozens of Elmore's pubic hairs were found on Dorothy's bed. And finally, prosecutors presented James Gilliam. A prison inmate who claimed who have heard Elmore confessed to the crime while in jail.

ANDERSON: That came out of nowhere. And that just rocked me. Mr. Elmore told Gilliam that I went down and robbed the lady. And she started screaming. And I killed her. That was the lynchpin.

SARANDON: The jury took less than five hours to reach a verdict. Elmore was convicted and sentenced to death. But the conviction was overturned on appeal.

J. CHRISTOPHER JENSEN, APPELLATE ATTORNEY: There was one juror who was reluctant to impose the death penalty. And the trial judge went into the jury room and put pressure on the holdout juror to impose the death sentence.

SARANDON: A new trial was ordered. Same prosecutor, same defense attorneys, same outcome. A third trial was held to reconsider the sentence and again the decision was unanimous. Thirty-six jurors had determined that Edward Elmore should be put to death.

Eleven years later, a 34-year-old law student named Diana Holt came to the South Carolina Death Penalty Resource Center as a summer intern. One of her first assignments was reviewing Elmore's case.

HOLT: The first time I saw the name, Edward Lee Elmore, and I was reading through the transcript.

SARANDON: Diana started having suspicions that Elmore's trials weren't fair. She was troubled that Elmore's defense attorney didn't call any expert witnesses and rarely challenged any of the prosecution's evidence. Diana knew that an incompetent defense was grounds for an appeal.

HOLT: I felt like there was something wrong. I needed to meet Eddie and give him an eyeball up and down. Size him up.

SARANDON: And who she met wasn't what she expected.

HOLT: Meeting him, it is just the biggest, sweetest smile, and he is so docile and gentle and quiet and happy. Happy. How is he on death row and happy? It just didn't make any sense. There was no way I was going let Elmore's case go.


SARANDON: Bishop Emanuel Spearman was pastor to Edward Lee Elmore, the man accused of murdering Dorothy Edwards.

SPEARMAN: I have come to know Edward in the late '70s. I pastored his home church. And his mother and I were best of friends. And they didn't have a whole lot.

SARANDON: One of 11 siblings, Elmore's father was killed by a hit- and-run driver when Elmore was 2. He grew up in dire poverty.

SPEARMAN: He had a low I.Q. I was a special ed teacher so I knew that he was slow. And when I went to jail and I spoke with him, he really didn't know why he was there. And that bothered me.

SARANDON: A hard worker, Elmore got by on odd jobs like cleaning gutters and washing windows including for Dorothy Edwards. But when Dorothy was murdered, age-old fears and recrimination surfaced in the community.

SPEARMAN: I know race plays a role when it comes to the justice system. Here in Greenwood, there are those that still have their agenda, but it is a hidden agenda.

KING: I'm positive that race played a factor in Lee Elmore's trials. And make no mistake about it but I think most of that was because he was the black guy that they say killed an older white woman.

SARANDON: Searching through Elmore's original trial, Diana found potential grounds for appeal. Her first target was public defender Geddes Anderson who seemed utterly unprepared to take on the case. HOLT: I asked him, when did you start working on the case? Eight days before the trail began. That's zero time. You can't even read all of the evidence and assess it and crunch it.

ANDERSON: In retrospect perhaps I should have asked for more time. I never have proclaimed to be, you know, the best lawyer that ever graced the courtroom.

SARANDON: Overworked and underpaid, Mr. Anderson also had a reputation as a drinker.

ANDERSON: That's fair. That's a fair accusation. I have had certain -- I guess you could say problems with it but I can say this categorically that I was totally clear headed and not drinking during those trials. Everyone of them. But on the other hand, I -- you know, I go out on occasion. And I'm not as bad as I used to be.

SARANDON: In contrast, prosecutor William T. Jones III known as Willie T. was considered a matter of the courtroom.

VANLERBERGHE: Willie T.'s he track record spoke for himself. He lost very few. He was very dramatic. I've seen that man cry in front of the jury.

ANDERSON: Mr. Jones in the courtroom probably could outperform Sir Lawrence Olivier.

BILL GARRETT JR. DISTRICT ATTORNEY: He could overpower you, overcontrol you, and he was not beyond saying things he couldn't prove if they weren't challenged.

SARANDON: Early in the first trial Anderson challenged Jones by objecting that a single thumb print was not enough to arrest Elmore.

HOLT: In order to obtain an arrest warmth, the police obtain an upside down thumb print on the back outside door frame. Well, that's exactly consistent with, you know, cleaning the windows. Cleaning the door. That is not probable cause in anywhere else in America that I'm aware of. But Willie T. said, oh, well, I'm glad you all brought that up. The forensic pathologist let us know that she had located Negroid pubic hairs on the victim's chest and abdomen.

The defense shut their mouths and sat down.

SARANDON: If Elmore's hair had in fact been found on the body this was a new and explosive claim. A claim that went unchallenged by Geddes Anderson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ask to see that evidence?

ANDERSON: You would have to look at the transcript to see. I don't know whether I did or not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: According to the transcript, you did not ask to see that evidence. Why would you not have asked to see that evidence? That seems like a pretty important one. ANDERSON: Well, I don't know how to answer that. I guess you'll just have to take some non-answer to that question.

SARANDON: Mysteriously the pubic hair Willie T. said was found on Dorothy's was never entered into evidence. As opposed to the hairs on the body, a separate group of 49 pubic hairs said to be found on Dorothy's bed also raised Diana's doubts.

HOLT: A lot of people thought being 49 some pubic hairs allegedly collected from the victim's bed as the most damaging evidence against Mr. Elmore. But this item of evidence was a plain baggy like you put your kids' sandwiches in when you're packing their school lunch. Not filled with red evidence tape that says evidence, do not tamper. This did not have that on there.

SARANDON: The evidence the bag contained 49 hairs. A number Diana found suspiciously close to the number of hairs police pulled from Elmore after his arrest.

VANLERBERGHE: There was from what I understand about, 50 to 60 hairs that were collected, either being combed or pulled.

SARANDON: But if Elmore's hair had been found at the crime scene of the nearly 100 crime scene photographs, not a single photo showed hairs on the bed.

VANLERBERGHE: Any kind of evidence you collect at a crime scene, the first thing you're going to do is you photograph it.

GARRETT: There was no pictures of the hair on the bed. There was pictures of everything except the most crucial evidence in the case. It became evident to me something wasn't quite right.

SARANDON: The only photo of the bed shows it covered with police camera equipment contaminating any evidence. The question became -- where did the hairs in the baggy come from?

GARRETT: There was no question they pulled those hairs from his body. They pulled a lot of them. And I don't think they were ever on the bed. I believe it was planted.

SARANDON: Diana was starting to see a pattern.

HOLT: There was all this ineffective assistance of counsel. There was no phases or probable cause to arrest Mr. Elmore any way and there was no list of Negroid pubic hairs in the original police inventory. There was no item like that.

SARANDON: As Diana dug deeper into the case, a new suspect began to emerge. She thought the next-door neighbor who discovered Dorothy's body had acted suspiciously.

HOLT: Really? He put his gloves on before he went to open the door? That grabbed me right away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SARANDON: In order to get a new trial for Edward Lee Elmore, Diana needed to find grounds to appeal. When she finally read what Elmore said in the original trial, she felt more determined than ever to fight back.

HOLT: I started reading Eddie's testimony and it got me. Yes. And the more it went along, the more it got me.

SPEARMAN: I remember when he was cross-examined because for a long time, Edward didn't say anything or testify. He just sat there as if, why am I here? Why I am a going through this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want this court to believe you're always this quiet, don't you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, sir, you asked me something. I answered.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want them to always believe you're real quiet and polite. Yes, sir, no, sir.


SPEARMAN: Edward didn't understand what he was talking about. He didn't understand how to defend himself or what to say.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, why did you hit her with this ashtray?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't hit her with it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you stick her with this knife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I didn't stick her with no knife, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell us how it felt when she reached down and dragged these pubic hairs out of that area. Hurt you, didn't it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, she didn't jerk them off me because I wasn't there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And she tried to get off the bed and get out of there, didn't she?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wasn't there, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you caught her and started pounding her with your fist, didn't you?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stomach and all?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you kick her?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, sir. I wasn't there. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's all I have to ask you.

SARANDON: In his closing argument to the jury, Willie T. portrayed Elmore as a sadistic killer who tortured his victim before beating her to death.

But Diana thought that the depiction of Elmore was highly prejudicial and the evidence riddled with holes. She also thought Elmore had done well under the circumstances.

HOLT: Even under withering cross-examination brilliant Willie T., Mr. Elmore said what he's always said. Very simply. I didn't do it.

SARANDON: In order to solve the mystery of who did murder Dorothy Edwards, Diana began looking for alternate suspects and she found one in the neighbor who discovered the body. James Holloway.

HOLT: I read the testimony of James Holloway and my head just about spun off my little spindly neck. Wow.

SARANDON: Holloway had spent an unusually long period of time at the crime scene before calling the police.

HOLT: He goes inside Dorothy Edwards' house. He sees that wall of blood for the first time but he doesn't call police. He decides that he's going to go to the other side neighbor and get her to come in the house with him. So he is at the closet door again and he decides to put gloves on. And then he opens the door, and lo and behold, there she was. Really? He put his gloves on before he went to open the door?

SARANDON: Diana was also suspicious that Holloway immediately told police who the perpetrator could be.

HOLT: He told law enforcement, you know, there was a boy here a couple of weeks back who washed her windows. And if you get me her checkbook, I can get his name for you. And that was Edward Lee Elmore. That boy.

SARANDON: Even more surprising was that the police allowed Holloway, a possible suspect, to clean the crime scene the day after Dorothy's body was found.

HOLT: Law enforcement turned the crime scene over to Jimmy Holloway to clean up. He could do whatever he wanted in there. There was no law enforcement presence watching what happened. There was no preservation of the crime scene.

SARANDON: Diana needed answers so she drove 90 miles to Greenwood, South Carolina, and showed up unannounced at James Holloway's front door.

HOLT: Mrs. Holloway answered the door. She led me into the den and he was sitting on his big overstuffed recliner. So I introduced myself and he proceeded to tell me, well, you know, really, the only one the killer can get away with it was me, the way she trusted me. That was one of the toughest moments in my career of not reacting, holy -- he also told me that law enforcement suspected him because all the neighbors had told law enforcement that he and Dorothy had been having an affair for the last 30 years. He told me that Dorothy was supposed to go out of town that weekend because she claimed that this guy in Trion, North Carolina, was going to propose to her this weekend. And -- but somehow she didn't get to go on that trip to Trion, North Carolina, that weekend.

SARANDON: Diana realized that if Holloway was having an affair with Dorothy, the motive could be jealousy and Holloway's detailed description of what might have happened also raised a red flag for Diana.

HOLT: He then starts telling me the story of what happened in her house as though he were an eyewitness. She was just sitting there on her settee watching TV. He came in and he started on her. It took her a good 20 minutes to die. He just went on. And there wasn't any nudging or prompting. He was relishing talking about all of the things. It was a gully washer of dumbfoundedness that day.

SARANDON: Diana's suspicions about James Holloway were never pursued. He passed away in 1994.

By 1995, Elmore had been on death row for more than 13 years. And he had seen many of his fellow inmates put to death. Elmore's survival would now depend on Diana getting him a new trial. A process Diana would launch only 98 days after passing her bar exam.


SARANDON: By 1995, Diana was ready to present evidence pointing to Edward Elmore's innocence to a state court in South Carolina. The goal was to get a new trial for Elmore. Diana would be join by Chris Jensen for what would be her first hearing as a lawyer.

J. CHRISTOPHER JENSEN, APPELLATE ATTORNEY: She was very fierce. She had not the slightest doubt about Eddie Elmore's innocence. She was determined to make sure that I did my job.

SARANDON: The state was represented by Donald (INAUDIBLE) who reportedly once argued that women who had abortions in the third trimester could be executed for murder. And Elmore's fate would be decided by Judge Earnest Kinard.

One of the first witnesses called was James Gilliam, the inmate who said Elmore confessed to him in jail.

But in the small town of Greenwood, both Elmore and Gilliam knew Bishop Spearman. And before the hearing, Gilliam told Spearman the truth.

SPEARMAN: James Gilliam and I go back I guess all our life. One night he called me and he told me, I lied and my conscience is bothering me. SARANDON: Gilliam said he made a deal with the prosecutor to testify against Elmore in exchange for release from prison. But with Elmore facing the electric chair he felt bad about what he had done.

SPEARMAN: I said, James make it right. And I got excited because I felt like once this comes out that Ed would be free.

JENSEN: Gilliam said the testimony that I gave in these prior trials was false. That he made up this story to try to get better treatment for himself on his criminal sentence.

SARANDON: Gilliam would go on to state that the only thing Elmore had ever said was that he didn't kill Dorothy Edwards.

But Diana's team also felt they needed to refute Dorothy Edwards' time of death which the medical examiner had placed on Saturday night during the only hours Elmore had no alibi. Diana hired forensic expert Jonathan Arden.

DR. JONATHAN ARDEN, MEDICAL EXAMINER: In my opinion the victim died in the early afternoon on Sunday. That time frame makes sense with the rigor mortis, the lack of decomposition. But when the state's medical examiner was asked, why did you recommend that the time of death the 65 hours prior to the time of discovery, given all the evidence of the rigor mortis, the lack of decomposition, she said under oath because that's when they told me. The police told me that's when they thought it happened.

SARANDON: But even with all the evidence in Elmore's favor, Diana and Jensen knew the biggest hurdle would be explaining the blood on Elmore's pants to the court.

JENSEN: Blood that was supposedly found on the pants and shoes matched the blood type of Mrs. Edwards. And this was difficult testimony to rebut.

SARANDON: As Jensen cross-examined the state's blood expert, Diana went through the files on the defense table and made a key discovery. Evidence lists showed Elmore's pants had passed through eight different people before the trial.

HOLT: I jumped out of my chair. And I start whispering to Chris Jensen, ask him what this means and who these people are and what that is supposed to represent.

SARANDON: One name on the list jumped out at Diana. Thomas Henderson was a state police agent who grew up across the street from Dorothy Edwards and James Holloway and was friendly with both.

HOLT: Tom Henderson had nothing to do with forensic investigation at all. Nothing. He wasn't supposed to be involved in the case any way because these were people he knew his whole lifelong.

JENSEN: There was really no reason for him to have removed these things from the laboratory. We were arguing that this evidence had in all likelihood been tampered with and quite conceivably that Mrs. Edwards' blood had been put on the garments will.

SARANDON: So it would now be up to Judge Kinard to rule whether or not Elmore deserved a new trial. The decision would take four months to come down.

HOLT: We presented all this great evidence. We're very excited. We're stoked. Then comes the judge's order and the cover letter said, "Edward Lee Elmore may well not be guilty but that will be for an appellate court to find."

SARANDON: Judge Kinard had left Elmore's fate up to other judges to decide.

HOLT: I became literally became hysterical. Completely sobbing, running, I threw it at John Blume. And he -- what the hell is the matter with you?

SARANDON: John Blume had assigned Elmore's case to Diana as an intern.

JOHN BLUME, APPELLATE ATTORNEY: I was stunned. I had really expected that he would grant relief because they had presented a compelling case of Mr. Elmore's innocence.

SARANDON: Diana was discovering that proving Elmore's innocence was not enough. To get a new trial Elmore's team would need to prove that Elmore's constitutional rights had been violated.

GARRETT: A person can be innocent but as long as they get a fair trial, that's all they're entitled to. Well, that begs the question. Is it a fair trial if somebody has lied?

SARANDON: Diana's team immediately appealed Judge Kinard decision to the South Carolina Supreme Court. But in the meantime, the state prosecutor, Donald (INAUDIBLE), had discovered that Diana had a secret that if exposed to destroy her career and damage Elmore's case. He would soon call her to a deposition.

HOLT: Don Zelenka asked, have you ever done anything in the course of your life that would reflect poorly on the legal profession? And I said yes.


SARANDON: While Edward Lee Elmore sat on death row waiting for his appeal to move forward, Diana Holt took on other death penalty cases. In one she was able to get a last-minute stay of execution over the objections of assistant attorney general Donald Zelenka. Zelenka was determined to discredit Diana. Zelenka dug through Diana's past looking for anything to get her off the case. In April 2000, he called her to a deposition.

HOLT: It was at the attorney general's office. There were six attorneys across the table from me and all of them lined up like this. Looking. Don Zelenka asked, have you ever done anything in the course of your life that would reflect poorly on the legal profession? And I said yes.

SARANDON: Diana feared that if her story became public it would ruin her reputation and destroy Elmore's chances for a new trial.

In 1975 at the age of 17, Diana ran away to New Orleans with a few friends.

HOLT: It was a horrible time. My sister had been taken away by the state of Texas. It had to do with sexual abuse that I suffered. I was 17. I didn't know how to deal with stuff like that. So I left. I met these three people. Went to New Orleans with them and after a little bit, I wanted to go home. I didn't have any money and there was a plan.

So I went to the French Quarter, started talking to this guy. And the ruse was that I would exchange sex for money. We left Bourbon Street together, got in his car and one of the two guys came in. He got on the passenger side. I was scrunched in the middle.

SARANDON: Diana's friend pulled a gun and demanded money. The driver gave them $60. They jumped out of the car and ran.

HOLT: Made it about three blocks. Pulled over by the New Orleans Police Department, up against the wall. The victim was a U.S. Marshal.


So it's like dumb and dumber a little bit. You know, what do you expect from an airhead 17-year-old? I pled guilty to armed robbery and off I went to the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. One day, the prosecutor in my case came to the prison to visit and he said, I just want you to know that you don't have to be what you did that day, and you can make it, and you can be somebody. And I'm still -- why wouldn't every prosecutor want to do that?

SARANDON: Diana began studying in the prison's law library, researching cases of fellow inmates and sending letters to the presiding judges. She even had one woman's sentence reduced.

HOLT: Doing the few things that did I that made an impact, it was like I want more of that. I want to do more of that. I want to help people like that.

SARANDON: A model prisoner, Diana was released in 1977 with a full pardon. The whole episode became a distant memory until Donald (INAUDIBLE) confronted her with it nearly 25 years later.

HOLT: I was like, you know what? You opened the door. I'm walking through it. Let's do this. I'm going to tell it all. Not just the part you want to hear.

SARANDON: But the judge in the case visibly disgusted by (INAUDIBLE) tactic disallowed the deposition. Diana could continue her fight for Elmore's life. At Elmore's trial, prosecutor Willie T. had claimed that Negroid haired had been found on Dorothy Edwards' body. But when the defense had petition to see the hair it had gone missing. Now 16 years later, the hair suddenly turned up.

BLUME: The prosecution has an obligation to turn over to the defense anything which is favorable. And in this case, they didn't do it at the time of trial.

HOLT: As it turns out, none of the hairs were Negroid at all. They were all Caucasian hair and they did not belong to Mr. Elmore.

BLUME: And that should be sufficient to warrant a new trial.

HOLT: We got all excited to ask the judge to set a new hearing. It was December 20th or 21st. We were going to have, you know, Christmas beyond all Christmases.

SARANDON: On December 21st, 2000, a new hearing was held. If a new trial were to be granted, Elmore could be released on bail and join his family for the holidays after more than 18 years on death row. Judge Ernest Kinard again presided, the same judge who had stated Elmore may well be not guilty.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Lab corps has entered a report indicating there are hairs there from someone other than Dorothy Edwards and there were no hairs from anyone of African-American descent.

SARANDON: Zelenka acknowledged that the evidence should have been given to the defense but argued that only one of the hairs found on Dorothy's body had sufficient DNA to read.

DONALD ZELENKA, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: We do not dispute the materials from the victim's body at the time of the autopsy. One hair, not hairs. One hair. It was merely another hair in the bedroom of Mrs. Edwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a completely different case than what the jury heard. In the final analysis, the question really is if not now, when? If this is not enough to grant somebody a new trial, then when is post-conviction relief ever appropriate?

SARANDON: Unexpectedly, rather than adjourn and read the filings before ruling, Judge Kinard issued his decision on the spot.


HOLT: The judge said, one hair is not enough. I'm out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this case, there are a number of things that stink and if you look at it as a whole, it doesn't just stink, it wreaks.

SARANDON: An execution date was set for Elmore. He was placed in a high security lockdown cell while awaiting his date with the electric chair. Now a mere three weeks away.

HOLT: I tried my hardest to get him ready for it. And he called me one day and he said, are they going to kill me? I think I told him in the most simple terms I could tell him, that they were going to have to take me out first.


SARANDON: After 22 years on death row, Edward Elmore was in lockdown, a special holding cell for inmates awaiting execution. With only 23 days to go, Diana filed a last-minute appeal and got a stay of execution. But this was only a temporary solution. If Elmore was to survive, they would need a new strategy.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The Supreme Court issued a landmark death penalty decision.

SARANDON: And a Supreme Court decision from 2002 gave them an opportunity.

BLITZER: In a stunning reversal, of course, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled executing mentally disabled criminals is unconstitutional.

SARANDON: The question was whether Elmore was in fact mentally disabled.

HOLT: He was tested. And the State Department of Disabilities and Special Needs finds that Edward Lee Elmore is mentally retarded.

SARANDON: Elmore's death sentence was commuted to life in prison. After nearly 28 years, Elmore was finally leaving death row.

HOLT: Sorry. That's exactly what I did. I get Mr. Elmore on the phone. I say hey, you're going to be leaving death row. I'm not going to die? No, well, not there.

SARANDON: Elmore's life had been spared. But Diana hadn't fought for years to see Elmore die behind bars. Her team had one last hope to get him a new trial.

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals would be the highest court ever to hear Elmore's case.

JENSEN: The Fourth Circuit has the reputation of being the most conservative federal appellate court in the country. So we felt that our chances of prevailing were very slight.

SARANDON: In yet another face-off with Donald Zelenka, the Fourth Circuit's three-judge panel heard oral arguments in September of 2010, and remarkably, they came down hard on Zelenka.

ZELENKA: The time of death, we were locking it down because the defendant was saying at 9:30 heading towards that direction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Locking down the time of death based on what his alibi was? I thought you locked downtime of death by science.

HOLT: The judges have some moral righteous indignation in their voices in what they're saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You put in evidence that there were hairs found on the bed. It was a big part of the conviction, wasn't it?

ZELENKA: Yes, it was.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not one photograph was taken of the bed where these hairs were supposed to be. Does that make sense to you?

ZELENKA: Well, I don't know --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that makes a difference now that we know he is mentally retarded?

ZELENKA: No, not at all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In this case, this is just a constellation of problems.

JENSEN: Even though the judges seem to be raising some serious questions, I came out of the argument feeling negative about our prospects. I didn't think the court had much incentive to overturn his conviction.

HOLT: We didn't hear anything for month after month. 14 months went by. And then I get an e-mail in my inbox. Heart stops. I start hyperventilating. I clicked on it, and the opinion is 190-something pages long. And like where is the good part?

SARANDON: The most conservative appellate court in the nation had ruled 2-1 that Elmore deserved a new trial.

HOLT: Everyone in the death penalty community, what happened? We don't win like that, and not there. But we did.

SARANDON: The state was reluctant to retry the case, knowing the evidence the defense had unearthed could implicate both police and prosecutors. So they offered Elmore a plea bargain.

HOLT: And the prosecutor asked, is there anything short of outright dismissal of all charges that we can do to settle this matter? And I said in fact there is. He goes free at the bond hearing, and he is going to continue to say the truth he said all of these years, I'm innocent. And the prosecutor said OK.

SARANDON: But the plea required that Elmore say in open court that the state could likely prove their charges against him at a trial. It wasn't the exoneration they were hoping for, but it would mean freedom.

Ur New tonight, he was once on death row. Now he is a free man. After 30 years, Edward Elmore was released from prison today.

EDWARD ELMORE, SPENT 30 YEARS IN DEATH ROW: Oh, thank the lord. Give me a minute. I'm kind of -- a little overwhelmed right now.

It was something, you know, I was just so excited, I could hardly speak. I just locked up all them years something I didn't do, right, and Miss Holt came along and she believed in me. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you afraid of dying?

ELMORE: Not in a -- you know, in a way, but like I say, I knew the truth would eventually come out, right. That's kept me going. All right. So it kept my faith right, and you know, just taking it one day at a time. That's all you can do, you know, and hope and pray that everything come out all right.

HOLT: Mr. Elmore had been incarcerated for 11,000 days. The judge told Mr. Elmore that he had exhausted his sentence. And he was free to go. You are free to go, Mr. Elmore.

JENSEN: We could walk him out that door of the courtroom and down those steps as a free man. And that was -- I'm sorry. That was the best moment of my life as an attorney.

SARANDON: Elmore moved back in with his sister, and has begun the process of adjusting to a world very different from the one he left.

ELMORE: So much had changed, you know, since -- trying to get used to everything. Still trying to adjust to things. It's so technical, right, phones and computers and all that stuff. It's really, really hard. I'm trying to learn how, you know. I'm trying to cope with it.

HOLT: Eddie's case taught me a lot of things about our justice system. It taught me to be distrustful, skeptical. Geography can make the difference. Money, of course. Gender, of course. Race is the one that is just a dagger to the heart. But it also taught me to never give up on it. That even 30 years later, someone will listen. As long as you don't give up. Justice is possible.