FRANKFORT — Melinda Elkins Dawson’s mother was murdered and her 6-year-old niece brutally raped in 1998 in Canton, Ohio.
If that wasn’t horror enough, police investigators eventually arrested her husband at the time, Clarence Elkins, who was convicted and sent to prison, primarily because of the niece’s statement that the man “looked like Uncle Clarence.”
Melinda Elkins wasn’t convinced.
She spent several years trying to determine who might have committed the crime when one day she saw a story in the local newspaper about a man arrested for a similar crime. The story indicated the man had once lived next door to Melinda’s mother.
She recalled that her niece had somehow after the attack managed to drag herself to the neighbor’s house seeking help but no one answered the door.
The man whose arrest Melinda discovered in the newspaper was eventually convicted for the later crime and imprisoned in the same facility with Clarence Elkins. She convinced her husband to befriend the man and then later to retrieve a cigarette butt the man had smoked.
DNA evidence on the cigarette eventually confirmed the second man had murdered Melinda’s mother and raped her niece.
Ohio didn’t have a law at the time allowing convicted felons to prove their innocence through DNA testing, but Melinda persuaded “a compassionate judge” to hear the evidence and re-open his case over the objections of prosecutors.
Eventually Clarence Elkins was cleared and set free. Melinda, who has since remarried, said he’s fine but lost two years of his life for something he didn’t do.
That is why she was in Frankfort Wednesday – to testify on behalf of a post-conviction DNA testing bill sponsored by Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow. The bill, which Bell has sponsored in the three previous legislative sessions, sailed out of the Judiciary Committee.