Delaware judge tosses lawsuit filed by man who served nearly 40 years for rape he may not have committed

The judge on Monday found that Elmer Daniels failed to prove his argument that Delaware police had concocted evidence against him and withheld exculpatory evidence.

Elmer Daniels

Elmer Daniels poses for a photo at his attorney's office Thursday, March. 05, 2020, in Wilmington, Delaware. (Saquan Stimpson for WHYY)

A federal judge has ruled against a man who sued Delaware officials for wrongful imprisonment after spending nearly 40 years in prison for a rape he may not have committed.

In a decision issued Monday, Judge Stephanos Bibas found that Elmer Daniels failed to prove his argument that, among other things, police “made up” evidence in the case against him or that the city of Wilmington had failed to train or supervise its police officers.

“Courts cannot right all wrongs,” Bibas wrote, saying that while Daniels had spent decades in prison for a crime he may not have committed, he had shown no genuine factual dispute that would warrant a trial.

Bibas granted a summary judgment to the city of Wilmington, former detective Philip Saggione III and several “John Doe” police officers targeted in the lawsuit.

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Daniels, 62, was sentenced to life in prison after being convicted in 1980 of raping a 15-year-old girl he allegedly encountered while she was having sex with another boy near a railroad bridge. At trial, both teenagers identified Daniels as the attacker. The prosecution further relied on testimony by Michael Malone, an FBI forensics expert who specialized in hair and fiber analysis.

Almost 20 years later, Malone’s credibility was called into question after a 1997 Justice Department inspector general’s report found that he had testified falsely in a criminal case. The report led to the formation of a task force that reviewed several cases involving more than a dozen FBI lab examiners.

In 2018, the FBI sent a letter to the Delaware attorney general concluding that Malone’s hair analysis in Daniels’ case had “exceeded the limits of science.” The attorney general’s office then moved to dismiss the indictment against Daniels. While the attorney general’s office could not declare Daniels innocent, it argued that his case should be dismissed based on the “interests of justice” and the amount of time he had spent in prison. He was released from prison in 2018.

Daniels sued state and federal officials in 2020, but later dropped his claims against the United States and Malone.

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