Image: Clarence Elkins
Tom E. Puskar  /  AP
Clarence Elkins leaves the Mansfield Correctional Institution surrounded by his family on Thursday in Mansfield, Ohio.
updated 12/15/2005 9:41:57 PM ET 2005-12-16T02:41:57

A man who spent seven years behind bars for the rape and murder of his mother-in-law was released Thursday after DNA evidence from a cigarette butt helped clear him.

Clarence Elkins, 42, walked out of the Mansfield Correctional Institution with his wife, Melinda.

Elkins was convicted in the 1998 rape and murder of Judith Johnson, 58, as well as the rape of her 6-year-old granddaughter. He was sentenced to life in prison and would not have been eligible for parole until 2054.

DNA analysis of a pubic hair and other biological material on the victims showed that Elkins was not the killer, said Bill Canterbury, spokesman for the Summit County prosecutor’s office, which tried the case in 1998.

Also, Elkins helped secure a DNA sample of the investigation’s current focus — fellow inmate Earl Gene Mann — by retrieving a cigarette butt Mann had used. And authorities said a DNA analysis connected Mann to the slayings.

Elkins learned of his impending release from his wife, who said she told him: “Pack your bags, you’re coming home baby.”

“When my wife told me I was coming home today for good, I was just overwhelmed with joy and tears of joy. I was amazed it was so soon. I thought it was going to drag out,” Elkins said in a telephone interview before his release.

Mann, 32, is serving a seven-year sentence for raping three girls. He has not been charged with the offenses for which Elkins went to prison, but Canterbury said he recently failed five polygraph tests about his role in the crimes.

Mann had a relationship with a woman who lived near one of the victims, Canterbury said.

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