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Elkhart County man wrongfully convicted of murder files lawsuit against county prosecutor, police

Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE
Andrew Royer (left) stands with attorneys Elliot Slosar (center) and Jimmy Gurulé (right) during a July 2021 press conference announcing his exoneration.

An Elkhart County man who was exonerated in July 2021 after spending 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit has filed a civil lawsuit against the Elkhart County Prosecutor and the Elkhart Police Department.

Forty-three-year-old Andrew Royer was convicted in 2004 for the murder of Helen Sailor, a 94-year-old woman found dead in a high-rise apartment near downtown Elkhart in November 2002.

Royer, who has an intellectual disability and no prior criminal record, confessed to the crime following two days of mostly unrecorded interrogation by former Elkhart Police Department detective Carl Conway.

His lawsuit alleges that the Elkhart Police Department and the Elkhart County Prosecutor’s Office violated his civil rights by coercing a false confession and fabricating forensic evidence.

That included paying a witness for testimony and putting a fingerprint expert on the stand who was not an expert, but instead just a sheriff’s deputy.

Many of those allegations were already heard and ruled on by a Kosciusko County judge as part of the 2020 retrial which overturned Royer’s conviction.

But the suit also alleges that current Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker was present for parts of Royer’s interrogation and participated in it despite knowing Royer had an intellectual disability.

The suit also states that Royer’s attorneys first learned Becker was present during the interrogation following a 2021 interview with ABC 57, where she stated that she did “not believe” Royer’s confession was coerced and said that she “saw quite a bit of it” and was “in and out of the room” during the interrogation.

Becker was a deputy prosecutor from 1998 until 2016, when she was elected to her current position.

Conway resigned from the Elkhart Police Department last year, several days before a planned disciplinary hearing to remove him. In 2021, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that he had committed perjury during Royer’s 2004 trial.

In addition, the suit names eight other Elkhart Police officers — Mark Daggy, Paul Converse, Peggy Snider, Todd Thayer, Michael Sigsbee, Joel Bourdon, Brett Coppins, Dennis Chapman — as parties to the case, which also includes the City of Elkhart.

Royer is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages and has also requested a jury trial.

The murder of Helen Sailor remains unsolved — Lana Canen, Royer’s co-defendant in the case, was exonerated in 2012 after a latent fingerprint found at the crime scene was proven not to be hers.

The Elkhart Police Department is a financial supporter of WVPE.

Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro came to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.