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‘He’s really freed now’: Friends mourn passing of Elmore

December 16, 2018

GREENWOOD, S.C. (AP) — In the spirit of the man whose life they came to celebrate, the family and friends of Edward Lee Elmore, who had gathered at Mt. Olive Baptist Church for his funeral, did not dwell long on the controversial circumstances under which he spent more than half of his life in prison.

Instead, they spoke about the man they said seemed incapable of holding a grudge and who smiled no matter his circumstances. Elmore died on Dec. 3 at the age of 59.

Before the service, Dean Kemp, who had been Elmore’s landlord during the last years of his life — Elmore was released from prison in 2012 — and saw him “almost every day,” Kemp said. “You’d think someone who spent 30 years of his life in prison would come out mad, with a chip on his shoulder.”

In January 1982, Elmore, 23, was arrested for the murder of Greenwood’s Dorothy Edwards, 75. He had been identified as a suspect by Edwards’ neighbor, former Greenwood County Councilman Jimmy Holloway, who had found her body in a bedroom closet at her home.

The investigation that produced the evidence on which he was later convicted would come under scrutiny. Elmore was convicted in 1982 and sentenced to death, but the conviction was overturned. That was the beginning of a legal back and forth. Eventually, the case ended up in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, where Judge Robert Bruce King wrote there was “persuasive evidence that the agents were outright dishonest,” and “further evidence of police ineptitude and deceit.”

Elmore was released after he took an Alford plea, which acknowledges that if a jury were to believe the facts of a case as the state presented them he’d likely be found guilty, while maintaining his innocence. He was released on time served.

His attorney, Diana Holt, was at the service. She declined to comment before the service began. “It’s almost impossible for me to speak right now.”

“I am Edward Lee Elmore’s biggest fan,” Holt said when it was her turn to speak during his service.

“We know you are!” someone from the crowd yelled playfully.

After taking a moment to gather herself, she told the crowd that few knew just how much he had endured.

Once, he complained of a toothache and was sent to the prison dentist to get the tooth removed.

“The dentist pulled almost every single one of his teeth before the correctional officer stopped him,” Holt said.

Bishop Emanuel Spearman, who was intimately involved in Elmore’s case, called Holt an angel, saying he wouldn’t have been freed had it not been for her.

Spearman said that Holt was different from the attorney who had initially represented Elmore in that she wasn’t from the community, and had nothing to lose.

“A lot of the injustice that has been done to the black race, this was a wake-up call,” Spearman said. “This gave them hope that there is justice for them.”

Kelcey Elmore, a cousin of Edward’s, sang at the service.

“Even though he was freed in 2012,” Kelcey said, “he’s really freed now. We’re sad, but we’re happy as well.”

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Information from: The Index-Journal, http://www.indexjournal.com

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