Lana Canen, whose murder conviction was overturned due to flawed fingerprint evidence evaluation, has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in South Bend. She alleges her civil rights were violated.
The lawsuit targets Dennis Chapman, formerly with the Elkhart County Sheriff’s Department, and Mark Daggy of the Elkhart Police Department. Chapman retired from the sheriff’s department in December.
Canen spent more than eight years in prison after a jury found her guilty in the slaying of Helen Sailor. Sailor, an elderly resident of Waterfall High Rise Apartments in Elkhart, was robbed and strangled in her home on Thanksgiving Day, 2002.
Canen and co-defendant Andrew Royer, both Waterfall residents, were jointly tried for felony murder. Prosecutors alleged that Canen was an accomplice. Both defendants were found guilty.
According to the lawsuit, the primary evidence against Royer were two recorded statements in which he confessed to killing Sailor. “The only evidence against Ms. Canen was testimony from defendants Daggy and Chapman that her fingerprint was found on a Tupperware container inside Sailor’s home, which was believed to be handled by the killer,” court documents read.
Elkhart city police had asked Chapman, then a detective with the sheriff’s department, to look at fingerprints in the Sailor homicide case. Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill later said Chapman’s fingerprint examination was a centerpiece of the evidence against Canen at the 2005 trial.
Canen maintained her innocence from the outset, and sought post-conviction relief. Her legal counsel hired a certified latent fingerprint examiner to conduct an independent comparison of the print evidence used during the trial.
Chapman reviewed the evidence presented by the defense expert, and conceded he’d made a mistake. The murder charge against Canen was ultimately dropped.
Canen alleges via her lawsuit that Chapman wasn’t qualified to do a latent fingerprint analysis. She also alleges that Chapman’s testimony was “endorsed and advocated” by Daggy.
Chapman and Daggy are being sued as individuals. Elkhart County and city government are not being targeted.
Canen is seeking relief including compensation and punitive damages.