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Mentally handicapped Indiana man settles for $11.7M in wrongful conviction case

A mentally disabled man who was wrongfully convicted in the slaying of a 94-year-old woman has reached an $11.7 million settlement with a northern Indiana city and former police officers, his attorneys said Friday.

The settlement for Andrew Royer, who spent 16 years in prison after confessing to Helen Sailor’s killing, is the largest known Indiana settlement reached in a wrongful conviction case, said Elliot Slosar, one of Royer’s attorneys.

“It is no coincidence that Andy received the largest wrongful conviction settlement in Indiana history,” Slosar said in a statement. “Andy was among the most vulnerable in our society when he was coerced into a false confession and framed for a crime he did not commit.”

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A jury convicted Royer of murder in 2005 and he was sentenced to 55 years in prison for the November 2002 slaying of Sailor, who was found strangled in her Elkhart apartment.

Royer’s attorneys argued on appeal that his confession to Sailor’s killing was coerced during an interrogation that stretched over two days and that an Elkhart police detective exploited their client’s mental disability.

Royer was released from prison in 2020 after a special judge granted his request for a new trial. The judge found that Royer’s confession was “unreliable” and “involuntary” and said investigators fabricated evidence, forced a witness to give false testimony and withheld exculpatory evidence from his attorneys.

After prosecutors sought to reverse the judge’s decision, the Indiana Court of Appeals found that Royer’s rights were violated and that the detective committed perjury when he testified during the trial that Royer knew details that only the killer would have known.

In 2021, prosecutors decided not to try Royer again, and the case against him was dismissed.

Royer’s attorneys sued the city of Elkhart, its police department and others in 2022. The settlement announced Friday resolves allegations against the city and the police department.

Royer’s claims against Elkhart County officials, including the county prosecutor, are still pending.

Messages seeking comment on the settlement were left Friday with the Elkhart mayor’s office and the city’s legal department by The Associated Press.

Royer, who lives in Goshen, told The Indianapolis Star that the settlement money will “change my life.”

“I am now financially set for the rest of my life. I hope to help my family as much as I can,” he said.

The settlement with Royer is the latest instance in which the city of Elkhart has agreed to pay a large sum to settle allegations of troubling police misconduct.

Last year, the city agreed to pay a Chicago man $7.5 million to settle his wrongful conviction lawsuit. Keith Cooper was pardoned after he spent more than seven years in prison for an armed robbery he did not commit.

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