Expert Testimony Flawed In Murder Trial

The Elkhart County Office of the Prosecuting Attorney has joined in a motion to the Elkhart Circuit Court to set aside the 2005 murder conviction of Lana Canen for the 2002 murder of Helen Sailor at the Waterfall High Rise apartments in Elkhart. Canen was originally sentenced to 55 years in the Indiana Department of Correction following her conviction by an Elkhart Circuit Court jury.

The Office of the Prosecuting Attorney joined in Canen’s request following an evidentiary hearing held on Aug. 16. In that hearing, Canen was seeking to have her conviction set aside based on evidence at trial, which she claimed was faulty.  That evidence relates to a fingerprint which matched Canen according to testimony at trial.

In the initial investigation, detective Dennis Chapman of the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department performed the fingerprint analysis and, during the trial, rendered his professional opinion that the fingerprint recovered from a plastic pill container found in the victim’s residence matched the left small finger of Canen.

Chapman had testified that he was a fingerprint examiner for two years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that he went through 12 weeks of training learning how to classify and examine fingerprints, that he continued comparing fingerprints after working with the FBI, both at the Cook Nuclear Power Plant and with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, and that he had compared “several, maybe 100 or so” fingerprints as of 2005.

At the trial, Chapman testified that he had compared the lifted fingerprints taken from the plastic pill container found in Helen Sailor’s room and that the print matched Canen’s.

During a deposition of Chapman on Sept. 7, 2011, Chapman again reiterated his professional experience. In addition, Chapman testified that he easily performed over 100 comparisons of latent prints to known prints. Chapman further testified that he had not made any erroneous identifications in the past.

In preparation for the Aug. 16, post conviction hearing, Chapman reviewed the photograph of the fingerprint he had previously identified as matching that of Canen.  For the first time since testifying against Canen in her jury trial in 2005, Chapman determined that he no longer believed the fingerprint matched that of Canen.  Chapman further testified to his new opinion at the evidentiary hearing on Aug. 16.

“After learning of Detective Chapman’s change in his opinion and a review of the evidence presented to the jury, I no longer consider Detective Chapman’s testimony at trial to be credible. As it is reasonable to believe that the jury relied upon Detective Chapman’s testimony in considering the evidence against her, it is clearly in the best interest of justice that the murder conviction against Lana Canen be vacated as we continue to reevaluate the evidence and Canen’s role in the murder of Helen Sailor,” said prosecuting attorney Curtis T. Hill Jr.

“We do not take this action lightly. While it is our responsibility to secure convictions when we believe it is right and just to do so, it is never right for us to preserve a conviction when to do so would not be just nor right,” said Hill.

It is anticipated that Elkhart Circuit Court Judge Terry C. Shewmaker will rule on the joint request shortly. If Judge Shewmaker vacates the conviction, the murder charge against Canen will be reinstated.

Canen had been accused of being an accomplice in the beating, robbery and murder of Helen Sailor and her codefendant, Andrew Royer, who was also convicted of murdering Sailor. Andrew Royer remains incarcerated in the Indiana Department of Correction serving 55 years.

 

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