COLUMBIA -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday denied South Carolina's request to delay a new trial for an inmate who spent nearly three decades on death row until justices can review a decision to toss out his conviction.
Chief Justice John Roberts' rejection of Attorney General Alan Wilson's request means state prosecutors will need to work simultaneously on their federal appeal and a new trial for Edward Lee Elmore, should local prosecutors decide to pursue one.
Wilson is challenging a November decision from a federal appeals court to overturn Elmore's murder conviction in the slaying of Dorothy Edwards. The 75-year-widow had been stabbed 52 times when she was found in a bedroom closet at her Greenwood home, with 11 broken ribs, head wounds and internal injuries.
The court wrote that trial attorneys failed to challenge forensic evidence that could have exonerated him. Elmore went to death row in 1982.
Over the years, Elmore has challenged his conviction and sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court set aside his death sentence in 1986, but he was convicted and resentenced to death in two subsequent trials.
After other death row inmates were exonerated because of new DNA testing technology, Elmore's attorneys tried again, asking a judge in 2000 to overturn his convictions because a blond hair found on Edwards did not match her or Elmore.
That hair and others removed from the victim's body during the autopsy were falsely reported by police as being "blue fibers" and were concealed for nearly 17 years, according to appellate court documents.
But a circuit judge again sent Elmore back to death row. A year later, a judge denied Elmore's lawyers' request to exhume the body of another man they said could have killed Edwards. Attorneys wanted to see if DNA from that man's body matched the blond hair.
Elmore spent 28 years on death row until a judge in 2010 ruled him mentally unfit to be executed. Another judge sentenced him to life in prison, with the possibility of parole, and he's now housed at a maximum-security prison in McCormick.
State officials denied Elmore's request for parole in January 2011. He is technically eligible to make another request in January 2013, a parole board spokesman said.
A local prosecutor said Friday that he had not decided if he would mount a fourth case against Elmore but was potentially leaning toward going back to court. "We'll make a decision at the appropriate time, but it just seems that it would be difficult not to go forward when someone has been tried three times and been found guilty three times," Solicitor Jerry Peace said.