ELKHART — When Cara Wieneke, Lana Canen’s attorney in the Indiana Court of Appeals, heard her client maintain her innocence through and through, she thought about looking into evidence used in her trial again.
“When I reviewed the transcript I realized the fingerprints were an important part of the trial,” she said. “And so I thought maybe I’ll have them tested by an independent examiner, one that was certified.”
She sent the fingerprints to Kathleen Bright-Birnbaum, an examiner at Arizona-based Desert Forensics, who sent back results showing the prints did not match.
After showing the findings to the prosecutor’s office, the officer who performed the initial analysis, Dennis Chapman, looked through the results and confirmed he had made a mistake.
Now Canen, who was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 2005, may have another chance to defend herself. The prosecutor’s office requested the Elkhart County Circuit Court to set aside the 2005 conviction and to have her murder charge reinstated.
Canen was arrested Sept. 3, 2004, almost two years after the murder of Helen Sailor, 94, at the Waterfall High Rise apartments, Elkhart.
It was reported initially that her fingerprints matched the ones on a bottle of pills inside Sailor’s apartment.
Elkhart County Prosecutor Curtis Hill Jr. stated in a written statement it is “reasonable to believe that the jury relied upon Detective Chapman’s testimony in considering the evidence against her.”
Wieneke said Canen always maintained her innocence, which led her to look into the fingerprints.
“I think a lot of people think that many clients claim their innocence but there really aren’t that many that do, and so when she continued to maintain her innocence throughout and even when I met with her, it made me think maybe there’s something there.”
Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers said Chapman will be disciplined for his error.
Wieneke said Judge Terry Shewmaker has 90 days to make a decision on whether to vacate her conviction and reinstate her charge. If her conviction is vacated she will be transported to Elkhart County to be presented at circuit court.