Lana Canen Lana Canen2
Lana Canen

Lana was sentenced to 55 years for the murder of a 95 year old woman based on a single fingerprint. The fingerprint examination was fraudulent. The state expert continues to be employed.

(Indiana)
Murder
Sentenced:
Freed:

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Freed woman suing Elkhart police

By Madeline Buckley South Bend Tribune | Posted: Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Lana Canen was released from prison wearing the sweats she bought from the commissary. She had one pair of socks and underwear. And that was all.

The 54-year-old woman faced the daunting task of rebuilding a life, one that came to a grinding halt when she was first arrested for murder in 2004.

Canen's tale of arrest, conviction and ultimate early release is one seemingly made for a television drama, except the Elkhart grandmother lived what she said was every painful moment of it.

Now, she is suing the authorities she claims falsely imprisoned her for eight years.

The lawsuit -- filed in January in Elkhart County but moved to federal court in South Bend on Tuesday -- revolves around an erroneous fingerprint identification by then-Elkhart County sheriff's Deputy Dennis Chapman, a defendant.

Elkhart Police Department Officer Mark Daggy is also named as a defendant for what the suit says was advocating for Chapman's fingerprint analysis expertise.

"This all could have been avoided," Canen told The Tribune during a tearful interview on Tuesday.

A jury in 2005 convicted Canen and Andrew Royer of murdering Helen Sailor, a 94-year-old Elkhart woman. All three individuals lived in the same apartment complex.

Police said at the time they believed Canen and Royer robbed and strangled Sailor.

Royer reportedly confessed to police that he killed the woman.

But police said they linked Canen to the slaying with a fingerprint at the crime scene Chapman matched to Canen.

Canen was sentenced to 55 years in prison.

Later, though, Canen won a post-conviction relief hearing after her attorney hired an independent examiner to analyze the print. Subsequently, Chapman said he made a mistake with the analysis.

The Indiana State Police lab then excluded Canen as the source of the fingerprint.

Elkhart County prosecutors declined to retry her.

So Canen walked out of prison in November of 2012 as a free woman after eight years of incarceration.

"It was overwhelming," Canen said of her first moments of freedom.

She saw and embraced her family members for the first time since her sentencing. She wrote to them over the years, but didn't want them to see her locked up.

"They wouldn't let me hug them before they took me away," Canen recalled tearfully of her sentencing.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Canen by attorneys Cara Wieneke and Michael Sutherlin, alleges that Chapman touted himself as an expert in fingerprint analysis, but lacked the necessary qualifications, which was not disclosed to the defense.

The complaint says Daggy and Chapman violated Canen's Fourth and 14th Amendment rights. It claims her right to due process was violated, that she was falsely imprisoned and maliciously prosecuted.

"If there had been any other evidence to connect Lana to the murder, they would have retried the case," Sutherlin said.

He said the erroneous fingerprint analysis was a matter of willful indifference, going beyond just negligence.

Chapman's attorney, Michael DeBoni, said his client did not intentionally deprive Canen of any rights, though he said he has not had the opportunity to examine the case in depth.

The defense has not yet filed a response.

Daggy's attorney, Martin Kus, could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Wieneke, who won the appeal, said that more than a year after Canen's release, the woman's life is slowly returning to normal.

"She's trying to get used to living out in society again," Wieneke said.

But the psychological effects of an imprisoned life remain.

Canen missed her daughter's wedding. Her grandson grew from a toddler to a 10-year-old boy while she was behind bars.

"I'm trying to reconnect, get those relationships back," Canen said.

Canen lived with her mother for awhile, but now has her own apartment, as she is again receiving disability funds.

But she still wants compensation for the eight years. She wants someone to take responsibility. She wants an apology.

"I basically had to start my life over," Canen said.