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Elkhart pays nearly $12 million in settlement for man with intellectual disability wrongfully convicted of murder

Andrew Royer, left, stands with his attorneys Elliot Slosar, center and Jimmy Gurule of the Notre Dame Law School. Royer received a $11.7 million settlement from the city of Elkhart in December 2023.
Jakob Lazzaro, WVPE
Andrew Royer, left, stands with his attorneys Elliot Slosar, center and Jimmy Gurule of the Notre Dame Law School. Royer received a $11.7 million settlement from the city of Elkhart in December 2023.

A Goshen man with intellectual disabilities who was wrongfully convicted of murder has settled his lawsuit against the city for a multi-million dollar payment.

Elkhart will pay $11.7 million to Andrew Royer for his wrongful imprisonment over 16 years for a murder he did not commit. That’s the most money paid out over a wrongful conviction in the state of Indiana and it comes on the heels of multiple other multi-million dollar settlements against the city of Elkhart for cases alleging police and prosecutorial misconduct.

Royer was first charged with the 2002 murder of 94-year-old Helen Sailor, who was killed in a downtown Elkhart high rise apartment building. He was convicted in 2004, primarily due to a confession in which he admitted to the crime. However, police at the time knew Royer had an intellectual disability and interrogated him for hours a time over two days in an interview that was mostly unrecorded.

In the years since his conviction, Royer has successfully argued that law enforcement officials coerced his confession, paid a witness to testify and falsified the credentials of a fingerprint expert who testified at his trial. First, a Kosciusko County judge overturned Royer's conviction in 2020 on the back of the new evidence. Then, the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld that decision and penned a strongly worded opinion against Elkhart police detective Carl Conway, who was the lead investigator on Royer's case.

"When law enforcement officials lie under oath, they ignore their publicly funded training, betray their oath of office, and signal to the public at large that perjury is something not to be taken seriously," Indiana court of Appeals Judge Melissa May wrote. "This type of misconduct diminishes the public trust in law enforcement and is beneath the standard of conduct to be expected of any law enforcement officer."

Elkhart police soon after pushed for Conway to be fired and he left the department.

In a statement announcing the settlement, one of Royer’s attorneys Elliot Slosar said “Andy Royer deserves the world for the serious injustice that he suffered. While Andy can never get those 16 years back, with this record-breaking settlement, the City of Elkhart readily acknowledges its part in framing Andy for a crime he did not commit.”

In total, Elkhart has now paid out close to $27 million dollars in settlements to four men who were wrongfully convicted in unrelated cases in the early 2000s.

Last year, the city paid Keith Cooper $7.5 million after he spent seven years in prison for an armed robbery and attempted murder that he successfully proved he was framed for.

The settlement in Royer's case, however, only applies to the city of Elkhart and some former officers. The lawsuit also names Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker and that aspect of the case will continue. Royer says Becker, who was an deputy prosecutor trying Royer's original case, was present for parts of Royer's interrogation and knew officers were coercing him and feeding information.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.