Indiana man convicted of 2002 murder is granted new trial

"Courtroom Gavel" by Joe Gratz, public domain

WARSAW, Ind. (AP) — A mentally disabled man alleging he was coerced into confessing to a 2002 murder of an Indiana woman was released from prison after a judge granted his request for a new trial.

Andy Royer was released Thursday, the South Bend Tribune reported. Kosciusko Superior Court Judge Joe Sutton ordered Tuesday that Royer be freed on recognizance, meaning he does not have to post bail. Sutton’s decision follows a 2018 appeal in Elkhart County Superior Court filed by Royer’s attorneys.

“I’m alive,” 44-year-old Royer said. “I feel like a whole new person.”

Royer and Lana Canen were convicted in 2005 in the strangulation death of 94-year-old Helen Sailor, who was found in her Elkhart home. But Canen’s conviction was reversed in 2012 after a county Sheriff’s Department detective recanted his testimony that linked her to the case based on fingerprint evidence.

Royers alleges fingerprint evidence, false witness statements and an interrogation that exploited his mental disability led to his wrongful conviction. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker said she could not comment because she was not aware of Royer’s release when she was contacted Thursday.

A hearing is scheduled for June.

Jeannie Pennington, Royer’s mother, said she “started crying and shaking” when she found out he would be released. She was not able to hug him because of social distancing guidelines amid coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s kind of sad,” she said. “I had it all planned out, what I was going to do when he came down the steps.”

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