Wife Works To Free Husband Convicted In Mother's Death

BARBERTON, Ohio (AP) - When Melinda Elkins' husband was convicted of killing her mother four years ago, she refused to believe it was true.

She thinks she has a compelling reason.

She testified that Clarence A. Elkins was home with her in Magnolia at the time, 30 miles away from the crime scene in Barberton, an Akron suburb.

But Melinda Elkins said no one believed her.

"I was just the distraught wife defending her man. That is so wrong," she said. "If Clarence had done such a thing, I would have been the first person to tell him to rot in hell."

The person the jury did believe, Clarence Elkins' 6-year-old niece, now recalls that the man who killed her grandmother, Judith Johnson, had brown eyes, not blue eyes like her uncle.

Melinda Elkins, 39, and her husband's family have spent more than $100,000 fighting for Clarence Elkins' freedom.

They hired a private investigator who has gathered evidence that implicates a 28-year-old man who had been rebuffed by Johnson, 58. She declined to dance with him the week before she was killed.

Summit County Common Pleas Judge John Adams, who sentenced Elkins to life in prison, said he will schedule a hearing next month to review the case and consider granting Elkins a new trial.

"I've been praying for the truth and relying on God to get me through this, one day at a time," Clarence Elkins told The Plain Dealer in a telephone interview from prison in Lucasville. "I can't wait to hug my wife, my mother and my boys."

Elkins was found guilty in June 1999 of rape, attempted murder and murder even though there was no physical evidence linking Elkins to the killing.

Investigators say that sometime between 4 a.m. and 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1998, someone walked into Johnson's house, beat her with a blunt object, then strangled her to death and raped her.

Johnson's 6-year-old granddaughter also was beaten and raped.

Clarence Elkins was arrested after the girl said her Uncle Clarence killed her "mamaw."

The girl, now 10, recently recalled that the killer had brown eyes, and she has identified another suspect, Clarence Elkins' lawyer Elizabeth Kelley said.

Kelley and Columbus private investigator Martin Yant said the girl only recently started talking about the case, after her mother and Melinda Elkins had resolved their differences.

In court papers, the new suspect is said to be a convicted sex offender who bears a "striking resemblance" to Elkins, and who was oddly infatuated with Johnson despite a large age difference and her failing health.

Several people say the man, who still lives in Summit County, had scratch marks on his body the day after Johnson's death.

"Sloppy work by police and prosecutors and their over-reliance on a child eyewitness put an innocent man in prison," Yant said. "We need another day in court to make this right."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)