CNN show looks at Elmore case
Sunday, March 09, 2014 12:22 AM
I was 3 years old when Edward Lee Elmore was first convicted of killing Greenwood’s Dorothy Edwards.
Elmore was charged with murder in January 1982, and was convicted and sentenced to death just a short time later, in April 1982.
Now, Elmore is a free man, one who is trying to peacefully live the remainder of his days.
The story of how Elmore went from behind bars, sitting on death row with little hope, to walking around today as a free man has been told and told again, in the pages of this paper, on regional TV newscasts, in books from Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and in gossip sessions over scrambled eggs, coffee and cigarettes in local greasy spoons.
But, tonight, a national TV audience will get to hear the story.
At 9 p.m., CNN will premiere “Death Row Stories,” an eight-part series on certain capital murder cases and the death penalty. The first episode focuses on the Edwards murder and Elmore’s subsequent conviction and fight for freedom.
Academy Award winner Robert Redford is a producer on the series, and Academy Award-winning actress Susan Sarandon serves the narrator of tonight’s story.
YOU COULD WRITE A BOOK on all of the events that have transpired in the Edwards/Elmore case in the last three decades. In fact, Pulitzer Prize winner Raymond Bonner wrote just such a book, “Anatomy of Injustice,” published in 2012.
But, for the uninitiated, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:
The 75-year-old Edwards was raped and brutally murdered on or about Jan. 16, 1982, at her Greenwood home. Four days later, on Jan. 20, 1982, Elmore — a local handyman who was 23 years old at the time — was arrested and charged in the crime. About 90 days later, he was tried, convicted by a jury and sentenced to death.
That conviction was overturned on appeal, and Elmore was tried again in 1984. He was was once again convicted. He was later again sentenced to death in a “sentencing phase only” trial in 1986.
He remained on death row until February 2010, at which point his death sentence was vacated. Elmore was deemed mentally retarded; thus, his death sentence violated the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution. He was sentenced to life in prison at that point.
Then, in November 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Fourth Circuit ruled, 2-1, to overturn Elmore’s conviction.
That led to a March 2, 2012, hearing at Greenwood County Courthouse. On that day, Elmore entered an Alford plea in relation to the case.
An Alford plea essentially means a defendant acknowledges, if a jury were to believe the facts of a case as the state presents them, there is a likelihood he could be found guilty.
Elmore was subsequently sentenced to 30 years in prison, then given credit for the 30 years he already served. He walked out of the Greenwood County Courthouse a free man.
IN MY DECADE OF EMPLOYMENT here at the paper, I’ve reviewed films, books, concerts and more. It’s part of the job from time to time, and I’m happy to do it.
So, on Friday afternoon, when a representative from CNN contacted me and asked if I’d like an early copy of tonight’s “Death Row Stories” episode to review, I told her to send it on over.
I have to say, this is not an easy one to “review.” This isn’t a fictional movie, or an episode of “48 Hours” filmed off in California somewhere. This really happened, right here in Greenwood.
Regardless of who did or didn’t do it, Dorothy Edwards — an elderly lady who was well-liked in town — WAS viciously beaten and killed. Edward Lee Elmore, a resident of the Greenwood-Abbeville area, was convicted and sat in jail for exactly 11,000 days for a crime he swears up and down he did not commit.
The documentary is full of images of Abbeville and Greenwood. People from Greenwood are interviewed on camera, including local attorneys Billy Garrett and Geddes Anderson.
It is particularly interesting to see Anderson, who represented Elmore as a public defender, interviewed in the documentary, as he has often been viewed as a scapegoat in Elmore’s initial conviction.
Advocates for Elmore have called into question through the years Anderson’s effectiveness in his representation of Elmore. Bonner’s book was particularly harsh on the Greenwood attorney.
Still, Anderson agreed to the CNN interview and, as you will see tonight, dutifully faced questions regarding his representation, his history with alcohol and more. No one forced him to do the interview — more than 30 years later, at that — but he stands tall and takes a few haymakers from the interviewer.
Of course, at the center of tonight’s show is Elmore, along with his tenacious attorney Diana Holt. Someone will make a Hollywood movie about this case, and the relationship between Elmore and Holt, in the future. Bank on it.
Many people in the area have opinions and theories about the Edwards/Elmore case. Tune in to CNN at 9 tonight and check out “Death Row Stories.”
It might change your opinion, it might not.
In truth, I don’t think we will ever definitively know — really, truly know — what happened on the night Dorothy Edwards was killed.
Trainor is the senior staff writer at the Index-Journal. Contact him at 864-943-5650; email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @IJCHRISTRAINOR. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper's opinion.