After Nearly 40 Years Served on the Basis of ‘Junk Science’ Evidence, Delaware Man Finally Released from Prison

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A man from Delaware has been released from prison nearly four decades after he was sent there after his attorneys finally won a battle for his freedom.

In 1980, Elmer Daniels, who is Black, was convicted of raping a 15-year-old white girl at the age of 18. But prosecutors dropped the case and set him free last week after 39 years when they acknowledged that flawed evidence was used to convict him.

The now-57-year-old Wilmington, Del., resident was sentenced to life in prison but was let go and greeted by his legal team outside Young Correctional Institution on Dec. 13, ABC 6 Philadelphia reported. Daniels’ team found false evidence, bad science and a host of judicial irregularities meant their client didn’t need to serve any more time for the crime for which they say he was wrongly convicted.

A key development in his case came in 2015, when the Department of Justice and the FBI acknowledged that decades of hair comparison evidence from FBI labs — a central component to Daniels’ conviction — resulted in overreaching and flawed courtroom testimony from the agency. Since that finding, groups like the Innocence Project have been working through cases where convictions hinged on such “junk science” evidence.

“I’m not gon’ to talk about being angry, I’m not gon’ talk about hate because it doesn’t change anything,” Daniels, who spent decades arguing he was innocent, said at a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 18. “But what I am gon’ talk about is the victims. There were a lot of victims in this issue. My family became victims, I became a victim and I pray that there are no more victims. Get it right. The justice system is broken.”

“They took something that they could never give me back,” he went on noting that he wasn’t angry but “hurt.” “Think about it. 18, where were you? Where are you now? I can’t identify with any of that.”

“I lost my family over this. It separated me,” Daniels added. “But hey, I forgive you because that is not for you — it’s for me.”

Delaware Online reported Monday that while the Delaware Department of Justice said it reviewed the case, it didn’t conclude Daniels was innocent based on the evidence at hand. Rather, it moved to dismiss the indictment based on the time Daniels served.

Going forward, Daniels is taking things day by day and joining his lawyer Emeka Igwe and private investigator Terrance Jones’ foundation Absolute Justice Project. Its goal is to advocate for criminal justice reform and right wrongdoings within the conviction process.

Igwe indicated they’d be looking into filing a lawsuit for their client, although the timing is uncertain.