Fingerprint Misidentification: State of Indiana v. Lana Canen

Fingerprint Misidentification: State of Indiana v. Lana Canen. Based on a fingerprint misidentification, Lana Canen spent eight years in prison for a murder she did not commit. But now, she has finally been exonerated of Helen Sailor’s 2002 murder.

From the Wrongful Convictions Blog: “On Thanksgiving 2002, Helen Sailor, an elderly woman living in Elkhart, Indiana, was found dead in her apartment. Because her apartment had been ransacked, police believed robbery was the motive for the killing. They found several latent prints, including one on a plastic container that held Sailor’s prescription medication. 

Police contacted Dennis Chapman, a detective with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, to conduct a comparison of the latent print found on the plastic container with Lana’s fingerprints. Detective Chapman had some training in print classification and ten-print examination, but he had no training in conducting latent print comparisons. After conducting his examination, he concluded Lana was the source of the latent print.”

Mrs. Sailor’s autopsy revealed significant injuries to her neck, face, and hands, and a forensic pathologist concluded that the cause of Sailor’s death was strangulation and the manner of death was homicide.

At trial, Chapman confidently presented his case and it became clear that Lana’s conviction centered on her finger print found on one of Mrs. Sailor’s prescription medicine bottles. But the finger print did not belong to Lana. On behalf of Lana, Cara Wieneke filed for post-conviction relief and had the finger print on the bottle re-examined. The conclusion? Lana was excluded!

Detective Chapman later stated that “he had made a misidentification, and that he now believed Lana was excluded as the source of the latent print on the plastic container. He explained that this change in his original conclusion was due to the additional training on latent print examinations he had attended since the trial. He also admitted that he felt pressure when conducting the original examination because he wanted to help out the Elkhart City Police. Finally, he admitted that he mistakenly overstated his fingerprint examination experience during his testimony at trial.”

One expert opinion and one piece of physical evdience sealed Lana’s fate. “They didn’t have any other evidence (against Canen) other than the fingerprint,” Wieneke said. This is unacceptable. What motive did Lana supposedly have to murder Mrs. Sailor? Robbery? Where any items from Mrs. Sailor found with Canen or her apartment? How did she recruit help or assistance for this murder? Who saw Lana with Mrs. Sailor on that fateful night? In this case, I do not believe that we have met any kind of minimal threshold to convict. But alas, it happened.

Below is a clip on how to compare finger prints. It is very clear, easy to follow, and will show you what to look for when two sets are examined.

Wienecke filed a motion for Lana’s immediate release from the Department of Correction, so that she could be returned to Elkhart County for retrial. In a motion unopposed by the prosecution, Canen’s indictment was dismissed and she was released on November 2, 2012. The 53-year-old Canen had been wrongly incarcerated for 8 years and 2 months after her arrest on September 3, 2004. A jury trial on the original charge has been scheduled for December 17, 2012.”

Canen’s codefendant Andrew Royer was also convicted in Mrs. Sailor’s murder and is currently serving a 55-year sentence. Royer remains imprisoned because his post-conviction petition was denied in December 2011 on the basis there is credible evidence supporting the truthfulness of his confession.

To be continued!

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