Clarence Elkins, who spent nearly eight years in prison wrongly convicted of killing his wife's mother, has settled his lawsuit against Barberton police for more than $5 million.
The settlement, reached Tuesday after more than five hours of negotiations in U.S. District Court in Cleveland, means Elkins has collected more than $6 million in restitution since winning his release from prison in December 2005.
Attorneys representing Barberton police detectives, who initially investigated Elkins for the rape and slaying of his mother-in-law, agreed to settle Elkins' lawsuit against the city for $5.25 million.
In 2006, Elkins received $1.075 million from the state of Ohio for the time he spent in prison.
Elkins was arrested in June 1998 hours after Judith Johnson was found murdered in her Barberton home. Her beaten and raped 6-year-old granddaughter ran from the house to a neighbor's house, seeking help.
The girl told police she believed Elkins was the intruder who beat and raped her and beat her 58-year-old grandmother to death. Elkins was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison, primarily on the testimony of the little girl.
Melinda Dawson, then Elkins' wife and the daughter of Johnson, embarked on a public campaign to prove his innocence. Eventually, DNA evidence was collected from a fellow prison inmate — a man who happened to be the boyfriend of the neighbor who helped Elkins' niece after the murder.
That evidence linked Earl Gene Mann to the crime scene and won Elkins' release. Mann, 37, eventually pleaded guilty and is serving a life sentence.
''Definitely, I have some peace right now,'' Dawson said Wednesday. ''With this being the final piece of all the events that took place, it's still very relieving.
''I can breathe now. This is just one step closer to healing and completing the grieving process for my mom and everything that happened.''
Clarence Elkins, now 47, could not be reached for comment. His attorneys are expected to receive one-third of the settlement. Dawson said the remainder will be split among Elkins, herself and their two adult sons, Brandon and Clarence Jr.
Attorneys for Barberton did not return a call seeking comment. The city agreed to settle the suit on behalf of four police officers who originally investigated the case and charged Elkins.
In August, a federal appellate court refused to dismiss Barberton from the lawsuit as a judge did previously with county prosecutors.
The court found Barberton police ignored evidence pointing to Mann's guilt in the weeks after the killing.
In a 3-0 ruling authored by Judge Boyce F. Martin Jr., the appellate court took Barberton police to task for failing to disclose a police officer's memo to detectives — written in the weeks immediately after Elkins' arrest — which quotes a drunken Mann as saying: ''Why don't you charge me with the Judy Johnson murder?''
''For the Elkins family, it has been a long time coming for them, and they are very pleased with the results,'' said Russell Ainsworth, a Chicago attorney who helped represent the family.
Ainsworth confirmed the settlement amount Wednesday.
''No amount of money is going to restore what the Elkinses had, but hopefully this will put to rest the legal struggle they had and trying to prove the justice they should have had all along,'' he said.
Phil Trexler can be reached at 330-996-3717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.