Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Shadow of a Doubt: The Clarence Elkins Story

Pressing Onward

Melinda was not ready to give up. Her hopes had been raised, then dashed, then raised again and again. Since it was unlikely that Judith and Brooke had been attacked by some wandering stranger, she thought about every possible person where Judith lived who might have had some issue with her. She had always questioned the strange behavior of Tonia B., the woman from whom Brooke had sought help. Instead of calling an ambulance, taking her to the hospital, or at least taking her home, Tonia made the girl wait on the porch in her bruised condition and bloodstained clothing until after she had served her children breakfast. Brooke had told her what happened, yet this shocking information had failed to hurry her. Apparently, everyone just thought it was simple rudeness and left it alone, but to Melinda it looked suspicious.

Earl Mann
Earl Mann

Then further investigation turned up an interesting fact: this woman had been living with a man named Earl Mann and was the mother of his three daughters. In 2002, he'd been arrested for raping them. Under questioning, Tonia admitted that he'd come home in the early morning hours after the murder with deep scratches on his back. He'd claimed he'd been with a "wild woman." When Brooke came to the door of this very home, he'd grown angry and insisted she not be allowed inside. He'd also ordered Tonia to keep the police away. Apparently, she'd meekly obeyed him.

Melinda brought this attention to Clarence's attorney, but she was unable to get a judge to order a DNA test for this new suspect. Knowing that DNA could be tested from a licked envelope, Melinda sent letters to Mann under a fictitious name in the hope that he would respond. But he never did.

By a strange coincidence, Mann was serving his sentence in the same prison as Charles Elkins, and on the same block, which put Clarence in position to get a biological sample. He watched for an opportunity, aware that no one had investigated Mann, and that he might even be innocent, so Elkins did not wish to do anything that might bring unwanted attention to a possibly innocent person. Then one day, after five months, he saw Mann drop a cigarette butt on the ground and walk away. This was it, the opportunity to at least find out if this person could be tied to the murder. Eliminating him would dash Elkins' last hope, but linking him could dramatically turn the case, even free him. He picked up the butt, placed it inside a tissue and pressed it between the pages of his Bible. When he managed to obtain a new Ziploc bag, he sent the butt by mail to his attorney. He knew that someone might catch it and stop it, but surprisingly it went through.

The butt went for DNA testing and the saliva offered enough DNA to indicate that Mann could not be excluded as the source of the biological evidence from the crime scene and both victims. Under questioning, he admitted he'd been in the house several times, including that night, but claimed everything had been fine when he had left.

This turned attention back to Mann's girlfriend, Tonia, the first adult to spend time with Brooke after the incident. It seemed possible that she had suspected Mann and had protected him by coaching the girl. She had even testified that Brooke had named her uncle as the perpetrator.

The Office of the Ohio Attorney General reviewed the DNA analyses. They had already joined the Innocence Project in requesting that Elkins receive a new trial, and they used this new evidence to alert the Summit County Prosecutor's Office. When there was no response, AG Jim Petro called an unprecedented press conference to tell the citizens of Ohio about this egregious injustice. He wanted the county prosecution team to realize they could not stonewall him so easily. "I didn't understand the short-sightedness of the county prosecutor," he said to a UC Magazine reporter, "so I decided to go public."


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