DNA evidence cleared Lewis Fogle of participation in the rape and murder of a 15-year-old, and he was released last month before a formal decision on his charges
A district attorney in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, has formally overturned the indictment of a man who served 34 years in prison for murder after DNA evidence ruled out his participation.
Lewis Fogle, known as Jim, was convicted in 1982 of the rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl six years before. He was 30 and had an infant son at the time of his incarceration. Now 64, he was released from prison last month to await the formal decision on his charges.
He was originally convicted after testimony from Earl Elderkin, a man with what the Innocence Project – the group which represented Fogle and fought for his release – termed “severe psychiatric disabilities”. Elderkin implicated Fogle after being placed under hypnosis by an amateur with no formal training, according to a press release.
Fogle was convicted on the basis of testimony from three informants who claimed Fogle had confessed to them while in prison, with no physical evidence.
He maintained his innocence, testifying that he had spent the afternoon with his parents and brothers and later went to a friend’s house and a bar, a timeline supported by testimony from his parents. Despite this, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Innocence Project looked at the evidence from the original trial and subjected the evidence to DNA testing, the results of which excluded Fogle as the killer.
“Thirty-four years is an extremely long time to serve for a crime he didn’t commit,” said Karen Thompson, staff attorney for the Innocence Project, in a statement.
Thompson, who was in court when the district attorney announced his decision, told the Guardian that Fogle was “very happy – very moved” with the decision. “His family was there. He has this great support. It was a very emotional moment for everybody,” she said.
Thompson thanked district attorney Patrick Dougherty for his cooperation, but also condemned the fact that the state of Pennsylvania currently has no way of compensating those wrongly accused of a crime. “This case is a powerful incentive for the state to create a mechanism to adequately compensate Pennsylvanians who have been wrongly convicted,” she said.
Dougherty told the Guardian that after the Innocence Project contacted him, he had assigned multiple detectives to review Fogle’s case to see if there was enough evidence to retry him. After a 50-day review, he said, his team indicated that there was insufficient evidence , and therefore had no choice but to withdraw the charges against Fogle.
“I still believe [Fogle] was involved [in the murder],” Dougherty said. “It’s simply a matter of we don’t have the evidence.” He said that his office was treating the 1976 murder as an open investigation at this point, and that there were “multiple persons of interest at this point”.
The Innocence Project said that Fogle endured his incarceration by painting, saying that he had completed “hundreds of works of art with supplies purchased from his meager prison work compensation, some of which won local competitions”. He now wants to make a living from painting, the release said.