Clarence Elkins

Summit County, Ohio
Date of Crime:  June 7, 1998

Clarence Elkins was convicted of the rape and murder of his 58-year-old mother-in-law, Judith Johnson. Johnson was assaulted in her one-bedroom rental home on Summit Street in Barberton, OH. The assailant also assaulted Johnson's six-year-old granddaughter, Brooke Sutton, knocking her unconscious before strangling and sexually assaulting her. He left her for dead. Later evidence indicated Sutton herself was the intended target of the assailant and Johnson was killed merely for being in the way. Sutton, however, was not dead but regained consciousness after a few hours.

She ran to a neighbor's house with a bloodstained nightgown and a swollen face. Sutton had played with the 6, 7, and 8 year-old girls who lived there, and considered them her best friends. Their mother, Tonia Brasiel, often drove Johnson to the grocery store and to the bingo parlor.

Sutton told Brasiel that her grandma was dead and asked her to go over to the house to help grandma. However, Brasiel told Sutton to hold on and made her wait outside about a half hour while her girls finished breakfast and got dressed. She never called the police or 911, but instead gave Sutton a ride to her parents' house.

According to Brasiel's testimony, when Sutton related what had happened, she said her assailant was her Uncle Clarence. Sutton told others her assailant looked like her Uncle Clarence, but she expressed uncertainty that it was him. Nevertheless, at Clarence Elkins' trial, Sutton appeared certain. Elkins lived 40 miles away from his mother-in-law, and Elkins' wife, Melinda, provided an alibi for him. She never believed he murdered her mother and worked to investigate who the real murderer was. Sutton's mother, April, broke contact with her sister, Melinda, over Melinda's support for her husband. However, in 2001 the sisters reunited. Sutton then said she always had doubts about her identification and that the prosecutors would not listen to her. She formally recanted her testimony in 2002. A court refused to grant Elkins a retrial based on the recanted testimony.

Melinda then read a news story about Brasiel's common law husband, Earl Eugene Mann, that reported Mann was charged with three counts of raping children under the age of ten. Mann was the father of Brasiel's three children, as well as a violent career criminal and a convicted sexual predator. Also, he had just been released from prison in June of 1998, two days before Johnson's murder. Under questioning, Brasiel admitted that Mann had come home in the early morning hours after the murder with deep scratches on his back. He claimed he had been with a “wild woman.” When Sutton came to the door of their home, he became angry and insisted she not be allowed inside. He also ordered Brasiel to keep the police away.

DNA tests excluded Elkins as his mother-in-law's killer in 2004, but prosecutor Sherri Walsh successfully argued that since DNA evidence was not used to convict Elkins at trial, it should not be used to exonerate him. To obtain Mann's DNA for testing, Melinda wrote letters to Mann in prison, pretending to be someone else, in the hope that he would write back. If Mann licked the flap of the envelope with which he wrote back, his DNA could be extracted from the envelope. However, Mann never wrote back. Then, in 2005, by an stoke of luck, Mann was transferred to the prison that housed Elkins and was put in the very same cellblock. Mann reportedly told other inmates he knew that Elkins was innocent. Elkins was able to retrieve a cigarette butt smoked by Mann which he mailed to his attorney from prison.

DNA tests on the butt revealed a match to Johnson's killer, but prosecutor Walsh still refused to acknowledge Elkins' innocence. Even after Ohio attorney general Jim Petro expressed belief that Elkins was innocent, Walsh continued to be obstructionist and refused to meet with him regarding Elkins' case. She caved in 15 minutes before a 2005 press conference that Petro scheduled to announce DNA results. Elkins was released soon afterwards.  [6/09]


References:  Justice: Denied, Innocence Project, Akron Beacon Journal, Crime Library, Dateline, Dayton Daily News, Court Documents

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Eastern Ohio Cases