12/17/2018 Ken Otterbourg, Delaware Department of Justice Examiner
On January 15, 1980, a 15-year-old girl reported she had been raped along the railroad tracks in Wilmington, Delaware.
School was out that day because of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and the girl, known as G.S., said she had been at a party with some friends. She left about 5 p.m. with a 15-year-old boy, known as K.C., to call a friend from a telephone at a gas station. Then, she said, they went up on the tracks and sat to wait for her friend to show up. G.S. said a young black man wearing tan pants and a green jacket approached them, and said he was a railroad security guard. He chased K.C. off, and then sexually assaulted G.S.
K.C. gave four statements to the police that were inconsistent about what he saw and where he was during the attack. He would testify that he and G.S. were having sex when a man approached, pulled him off G.S., chased him away, and then proceeded to assault the girl himself.
The police were also investigating two other unsolved rapes during this period. After police threatened to charge K.C. with third-degree rape, he said that he had recognized the assailant because they had been in the same eighth-grade homeroom a few years earlier. He gave a name: Elmer.
With that information, the police tracked down the homeroom teacher, who said K.C. had been in the same class as a boy named Elmer Daniels.
Police had a recent photo of Daniels, who had just turned 18, because he had two previous arrests for minor crimes. G.S., who like K.C. was white, had already looked at 300 photos, and now police gave her 50 more, including Daniels. She picked him as her assailant.
Daniels was arrested on January 17, 1980 and charged with first-degree rape. Because of his age, he underwent a court-ordered psychiatric exam. The doctor who interviewed him would state in his report that he had serious reservations about Daniels’s guilt.
He noted that the victim had initially described her offender as having a “big nose,” and severely bitten fingernails and cuticles. Daniels, the doctor noted, had a short, narrow nose, and his nails showed no signs of biting. “These facts, together with other findings of the examination, tend to make this examiner rather doubtful of the identification of the defendant.” The defense did not offer this report into evidence.
Daniels’s trial began May 19, 1980. Daniels had a strong alibi. Several witnesses testified that he was playing basketball at a community center near his house around the time of the assault. His nickname, “Fudd,” was on the sign-in sheet. The center was more than a mile from where the girl was attacked, and Daniels did not have a car or access to one. His mother and a neighbor also testified that Daniels had run an errand for them during the period right around when the assault was said to have happened.
The state’s case hinged in part on the testimony of G.S. and K.C. K.C. had been charged with hindering arrest and given three months’ probation. In addition, there was powerful forensic evidence connecting Daniels to the crime. Police had collected pubic hair from pants found at Daniels’s house and head hair from the panties of the victim. Michael Malone, an analyst with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said that the hair from the pants was consistent with the pubic hair of the victim in “all microscopic characteristics,” and that the head hair found in the victim’s panties was also similiarly consistent with Daniels’s head hair.
"When you get a double, what we call a double match like this, it would increase the probability tremendously," Malone said. It was his opinion that it was extremely unlikely that Daniels wasn’t the source of the hair.
The prosecutor hammered this point home during closing arguments. He said, “You heard the FBI agent testify. He has never had a case where there’s been a double match. The victim’s hair on the defendant, the defendant’s hair on the victim, never had a case like that where they weren’t – where they weren’t the people who he said they were. Hair evidence is strong evidence. You heard him … All the alibi witnesses in the world aren’t going to get around that.”
Daniels was convicted by an all-white jury on May 22, 1980, and sentenced to life in prison. His appeals were unsuccessful. He was paroled in 2015 as a registered sex offender, but then returned to prison a year later for violating the conditions of his parole. One violation was for failure to hold a job; he was fired from a restaurant after a police officer told the management that he would tell patrons that a sex offender worked there. The second violation was for his failure to complete a required sex-offender therapy program. Daniels refused to admit his guilt, which was necessary for completion.
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