On a beautiful sunny day Pennsylvania Innocence Project client Lewis James Fogle (whose family calls him Jim) walked out of SCI Pine Grove near Indiana, Pennsylvania, after serving more than 34 years for a murder he did not commit. Newly available DNA testing excluded Jim and points to another male – unidentified by the DNA – as the person who assaulted and murdered a 15 year-old girl in 1984.
Mr. Fogle has worked with The Innocence Project, based in New York and affiliated with Cardozo School of Law, since 2009. Having first been told all physical evidence from the case had been destroyed, or at least was no longer available, interns and lawyers from The Innocence Project persevered and found the evidence earlier this year. Indiana County District Attorney Patrick Dougherty was phenomenally cooperative on the case, waiving all procedural barriers to DNA testing and allowing the testing to go forward at Cellmark Laboratories. When Cellmark discovered Mr. Fogle was excluded as a perpetrator, IP lawyers asked the Pennsylvania Innocence Project to join the case as co-counsel. We happily agreed.
Within the very short time-frame allowed by Pennsylvania law, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project helped draft and finalize Mr. Fogle’s Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, arguing the newly available DNA evidence exculpated him from the crime. Specifically, the Petition argued that had Mr. Fogle’s jury heard Mr. Fogle’s DNA was not on any of the victim’s clothing where the perpetrator left behind biological matter, he would have been acquitted.
Rather than fight the case, the Indiana County District Attorney agreed Mr. Fogle’s convictions and sentence should be vacated on the strength of the new evidence. The District Attorney, Mr. Dougherty, signed and filed a Joint Stipulation Agreeing to Post-Conviction Relief in late July.
On August 13, 2015, Centre County Senior Judge David E. Grine, signed an order vacating Mr. Fogle’s convictions and sentence. Judge Grine also agreed with Mr. Fogle’s attorneys that Mr. Fogle is entitled to bail, and set the amount requested by the attorneys: $25,000 in an unsecured bond. That left Mr. Fogle free to go home to his family, three decades after his incarceration. Six hours later, Jim Fogle walked into the outstretched arms of his wife, two sons, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter.
David Loftis, the Managing Attorney for The Innocence Project also represents Mr. Fogle. Mr. Loftis said, “This has been an extremely long journey for Mr. Fogle who has always maintained his innocence of the 1976 crime. We are incredibly grateful to District Attorney Patrick Dougherty for working with us to conduct the DNA testing and for acknowledging that Mr. Fogle’s conviction should be set aside.”
The case against Mr. Fogle itself was never a strong one – it was based entirely upon the testimony of so-called jailhouse informants, including a man himself suspected of the crime. It was only years after the 15-year-old victim’s body was found in the woods that the suspect, Elderkin, named Mr. Fogle as being involved. This accusation came during Elderkin’s fifth statement to police, while Elderkin was receiving psychiatric treatment and with the assistance of hypnosis. No physical evidence connected Mr. Fogle to the murder, and he testified at trial he was nowhere near the scene when the girl was murdered. Nonetheless, the jury convicted Mr. Fogle and the court sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Incentivized informants have contributed to 15 percent of those wrongly convicted and later proven innocent by DNA evidence. This type of evidence is inherently unreliable and should never serve as the sole basis for prosecuting someone.
While charges against Mr. Fogle are still pending, the District Attorney has said publicly he does not anticipate trying to secure another conviction against Mr. Fogle. Judge Grine set September 14 as the date by which the District Attorney must make his decision. Mr. Fogle’s first meal? A ribeye steak!