Convicted of
Brother's Crime

14 Cases

Fresno County, CA

Bernard Vindiola

July 22, 1976 (Fowler)

Bernard Vindiola was convicted of the shooting murder of Thomas J. McCoy, a security guard at the Peek-a-Boo Bar in Fowler, CA. At the time of the shooting, Bernard, his brother, Eddie Vindiola, several sisters and some friends were at the bar. Christina Vindiola got into a fight with her sisters, Rosie and Elena, and with Eddie's girlfriend, Martina Rocha. McCoy attempted to intervene and stop the fight. In the process he was shot three times, and later died as a result. After the shooting, Christina Vindiola remained at the bar. She told a number of people that her brother, Eddie, had a gun and had shot the security guard. She would later testify that she made those initial statements because she was angry with Eddie. She stated that she did not know whether Eddie had a gun or had shot the victim.

At Bernard's trial, his defense was that Eddie had shot the victim. Bernard's girlfriend was not involved in the fight or with the security guard, but Eddie's girlfriend was. Only one witness, Vaughn Donabedian, claimed to have seen Bernard shoot McCoy. His testimony was questionable for several reasons: (1) The lighting condition in the bar was dark, and it was crowded with 75 to 85 people. (2) Shortly after the shooting, Donabedian said the assailant was 5 feet 10 inches tall and in his late 20s or early 30s. Eddie was 5 feet 9 inches tall and 28 years old. Bernard, however, was 6 feet 1 inch and 21 years old. (3) Donabedian was positive that the killer had gotten in the back seat of a car just before it drove away. However, there was testimony that Eddie, who was unable to drive, got in the back seat, whereas Bernard was in the front seat driving. (4) The day after the shooting, Donabedian was shown a group of photographs, including Bernard's, but could not identify any of them as the assailant. (5) Donabedian was shown a physical lineup three days later and identified someone other than Bernard as the killer. He later claimed at trial that Bernard had been in that lineup, which was incorrect.

In 1979, a state appeals court overturned Bernard's conviction because the defense was prohibited from introducing Eddie's prior conviction of auto theft to impeach his testimony. The court also cited other reasons and noted in its opinion the weight of evidence was in favor of Bernard. It is not known if Bernard was retried, but the Northwestern Law School website lists him as an exonerated person.  (People v. Vindiola)  [10/08]

 Los Angeles County, CA

Jesus Avila

Aug 19, 1990 (Lynwood)

Jesus Avila was convicted of attempted murder in 1990 in the shooting of Demetrius Kidd. The shooting occurred at a baby shower gathering in Ham Park. Jesus's original lawyer, George Denny, became convinced that Jesus's brother, Ernesto, was the real shooter, after Ernesto apparently confessed to him. But Denny never told anyone because he represented Ernesto in another matter and believed that he could not implicate him – even if doing so might help clear Jesus. While Denny wrestled with this dilemma, Ernesto and the Avila family gambled. Rather than come forward and testify for his brother at the trial, Ernesto hoped that Jesus would win his freedom anyway. “We thought Jesus would be acquitted and Ernesto would not have to go to jail either,” said Christine Avila, their mother.

Denny withdrew from the case, citing an unspecified conflict of interest. However, he never shared with Jesus's new lawyer information he had on why Ernesto was the real shooter. When police arrived at the shooting, Ernesto had fled. Witnesses there identified Jesus as the person who most looked like the shooter. At trial, Jesus's new lawyer presented witnesses who placed Jesus on the opposite side of the park at the time of the shooting. Some remember him hitting the ground when shots were fired. However, the prosecution witnesses prevailed.

On appeal in 1992, a judge heard sworn testimony that Ernesto was the guilty party, both from Ernesto and several other witnesses. However, the judge declined to order a new trial for Jesus, saying later that he did not find Ernesto's admissions credible. Eventually, however, Jesus was able to appeal to the federal Ninth Circuit Court, which overturned his conviction in July 2002.  (L.A. Times)  [10/07]

Idaho County, ID 

Mark Lankford

June 21, 1983

Mark Henry Lankford was convicted along with his brother Bryan of beating to death Robert and Cheryl Bravence in the Idaho wilderness. Mark was not at the scene of the crime but was convicted because Bryan was promised life imprisonment instead of death, for testimony against his brother. Bryan has since recanted, but Mark has spent 20 years in solitary confinement on Death Row.  (Free Mark)  [3/05]

 Cook County, IL

Brown & Houston

June 18, 1983

Robert Brown and Elton Houston were convicted of the murder of Ronnie Bell after being identified by some eyewitnesses. The murder was presumed to be gang related. In 1985, Anthony Sumner, an inmate cooperating with a federal probe of the El Rukn street gang identified the actual men involved in the murder as J. L. Houston (Elton's brother), Earl Hawkins, and Derrick Kees. At his trials Elton maintained that he was being mistaken by the identifying witnesses for his brother, J. L. It was undisputed that J. L. owned the car involved in the shootings, and the murder weapons were found in the car. Also it was maintained that J. L. was known to the police as an El Rukn hit man, and Elton was not an El Rukn. Two of the three actual men confessed. Brown and Houston were exonerated and released in 1989.  (CWC)  [12/05]

 Cook County, IL

Leroy Orange

Jan 11, 1984

Leroy Orange was sentenced to death for the murder of Renee Coleman, 27, Michelle Jointer, 30, Ricardo Pedro, 25, and Coleman's 10-year-old son, Tony. Orange confessed to the crimes after being subjected to beatings, suffocation, and electroshock by Lt. John Burge and other officers at the Chicago Area Two police station. Orange subsequently told everyone he came in contact with that he had been tortured: his cellmate, a physician, relatives and friends who visited him, his public defender, and the arraignment judge. Orange's half brother, Leonard Kidd, implicated Orange in the murders while being tortured at Area 2. However, Kidd testified for Orange against his attorney's advice admitting that he alone committed the murders without Orange's participation or knowledge. Governor Ryan pardoned Orange on Jan. 10, 2003.  (CWC)  [8/05]

Jefferson Parish, LA 

Willie Jackson

Dec 12, 1986 (Marrero)

Willie Jackson was convicted of rape and robbery after being identified by the victim. In addition, a forensic odontologist testified at trial that the bite marks on the victim matched Willie. Just days after Willie's conviction, his brother Milton confessed to the crime. At least three pieces of evidence implicated Milton, but the victim still identified Willie. In 2006, Willie was freed after DNA tests showed that Milton was the rapist. Milton is serving a life sentence for an unrelated 1998 rape.  (IP)  [12/06]

Terrebonne Parish, LA 

Clyde Charles

Mar 12, 1981

Clyde Charles was convicted of rape. Clyde and his brother Marlo Charles had been out drinking together at a bar. The brothers then went their separate ways hitchhiking. The victim, a 26-year-old, was subsequently raped after her car had a flat tire on the same road as the bar. The victim initially told police that her assailant was clean-shaven, but she identified the fully bearded Clyde as her assailant when police brought him to her several hours after the assault. Police had found Clyde hitchhiking an hour before the assault and had ordered him off the road. Marlo bore a strong resemblance to Clyde and was dressed similar to him on the night of the assault, but the victim maintained that Clyde was her assailant. At trial, Marlo testified in his brother's defense, but was not asked by either the prosecution or the defense if he was the rapist. However, Clyde's defense attorney filed an affidavit stating he believed Marlo was the rapist. Clyde began requesting DNA tests in the early 1990's but prosecutors blocked these requests for years. In 1999, DNA tests exonerated Clyde and implicated Marlo.  (IP) (Frontline) (Justice: Denied)  [11/08]

Bronx County, NY

Diomedes Polonia

May 16, 1997

Diomedes Polonia was convicted of attempted murder for allegedly shooting Thomas Hosford three times in the course of a robbery. The victim said Freddy Polonia was his shooter. Pedro “Freddy” Polonia is Diomedes brother and bears a strong resemblance to him. When police visited Diomedes' apartment they believed they had found “Freddy.” While in the hospital, the victim was shown fresh mug shots of Diomedes, whom he identified as “Freddy.” Later, the victim further identified the wrong brother at a precinct station house line-up.

The actual Freddy signed a handwritten confession to the crime, but then reportedly fled to Puerto Rico. He was later located in Massachusetts where he had been arrested for drug dealing and was making regular court appearances there. A team of assistant DAs got in a car and drove up to Massachusetts, but Freddy invoked his right to counsel and silence. Then, within days, Freddy fled again, reportedly on a plane out of Boston. Diomedes' conviction was eventually overturned and he was released in Jan. 2003, but only after his Legal Aid attorneys logged 1300 hours on the case, and Diomedes spent over 5 and a half years in prison.  (  [1/07]

Kings County, NY

Lamont Branch

Mar 26, 1988 (Brownsville)

Lamont Branch was convicted of shooting to death Danny Josephs, 37, in 1990. Branch's brother, Lorenzo later admitted responsibility for the shooting. Branch was freed in 2002.  (NY Times)  [10/05]

Stark County, OH

John Gillard

Jan 1, 1985 (Canton)

John Grant Gillard was sentenced to death for shooting three people, killing two of them. John's brother, William Gillard, attended a New Year's Eve party. While there, Leroy Ensign beat William and forcibly ejected him from the party. William returned later, after midnight, and fired a shot into the air. Shortly thereafter, Ensign, Denise Maxwell, and Ron Postlethwaite were shot. Ensign and Maxwell died. Police put out an all points bulletin for a truck driven by William, the truck seen leaving the scene of the shootings.

Four hours after the shootings, the Ohio Highway Patrol caught William trying to flee the state. He had high-velocity blood spatter on him that placed him within two feet of the victims at the moment they were shot. Tests showed that blood spots found on him were consistent with all three victims. Police did not issue an arrest warrant for his brother John until Jan 2.

Police later claimed they lost Postlethwaite's original statement as to the identity of the shooter. At trial, Postlethwaite identified John as the shooter. Postlethwaite also testified that he had at least eight beers and was sleeping in a poorly lit room at the time of the shootings. During trial, the state emphatically maintained that Postlethwaite identified John immediately after the shootings. However, the lead investigator has since admitted that the investigation had focused originally on William.

John's attorney, Louis Martinez, also represented William. During John's trial Martinez challenged the evidence against William, even though doing so prejudiced John. William testified at John's trial stating that he was not present at the shootings and he tried to explain away the physical evidence that implicated himself. After entering into a plea agreement that allowed him to be immediately paroled, William testified at the trial of another man that he (William) was present when Ensign was shot, but fled prior to the other shootings.  (Appeals)  [2/08]

Spartanburg County, SC

Jesse Keith Brown

Dec 31, 1983

Jesse Keith Brown was sentenced to death for murdering John Horace McMillin, 63. McMillin was shot during a robbery in his home near Fingerville. The key evidence against Brown was the testimony of his half-brother, which was plagued with serious questions. Brown's conviction was twice overturned. He was acquitted at his third trial in 1989 when he presented new evidence that his half-brother was the true killer.  (PC)  [10/05]

Cameron County, TX 

Leonel Torres Herrera

Sept 29, 1981

Leonel Torres Herrera was sentenced to death for murdering two police officers, David Rucker and Enrique Carrisalez. The murders occurred at separate locations along a highway between Brownsville and Los Fresnos. Enrique Hernandez, Carrisalez's patrol car partner, identified Herrera. Hernandez also said Herrera was only person in the car that they stopped. Carrisalez, who did not die until 9 days after he was shot, identified Herrera from a single photo. A license plate check showed that the stopped car belonged to Herrera's live in girlfriend.

In 1984, after Herrera's brother Raul was murdered, Raul's attorney came forward and signed an affidavit stating that Raul told him he had killed Rucker and Carrisalez. A former cellmate of Raul also came forward and signed a similar affidavit. Raul's son, Raul Jr., who was nine at the time of the killings, signed a third affidavit. It averred that he had witnessed the killings. Jose Ybarra, Jr., a schoolmate of the Herrera brothers, signed a fourth affidavit. Ybarra alleged that Raul Sr. told him in 1983 that he had shot the two police officers. Herrera alleged that law enforcement officials were aware of Ybarra's statement and had withheld it in violation of Brady v. Maryland. Armed with these affidavits, Herrera petitioned for a new trial, but was denied relief in state courts. One court did dismiss Herrera's Brady claim due to lack of evidence. Herrera's appeal eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where it was argued in Oct. 1992.

In Jan. 1993, the Supreme Court ruled that Herrera's actual innocence was not a bar to his execution. He had to show that there were procedural errors in his trial in order to gain relief. Justice Rehnquist wrote that the “presumption of innocence disappears” once a defendant has been convicted in a fair trial. Dissenting Justice Blackmun wrote: “The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder.” Herrera was executed four months after the ruling on May 12, 1993.  (Herrera v. Collins)  [1/07]

 Harris County, TX

Robert Angleton

Apr 16, 1997

Robert Angleton, also known as Bob, was a bookie who took bets on sporting events. He was charged with murdering his 46-year-old wife, Doris. Following the murder, Bob told police that he suspected his brother Roger was the killer. Despite Roger's checkered past, Bob had employed him in 1989. He fired him less than a year later. After being fired, Roger felt Bob owed him $200,000 and even tried to rob him of it at gunpoint. Roger then threatened to put Bob out of business, by reporting him to the IRS. Bob ignored him, but Roger started making phone calls to customers, posing as an IRS agent.
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 Newfoundland, Canada

Randy Druken

June 12, 1993

Randy Druken was convicted of murdering his girlfriend, Brenda Young. This conviction was overturned after a jailhouse informant recanted his story, claiming that police had bullied him into making it. DNA testing was then done on a cigarette which was believed to have come from the killer. That testing established that cigarette had not be used by Druken. In 2000, the Crown stayed the charge against Druken rather than proceed with a new trial. Evidence came to light in 1998 that Druken's brother Paul was the actual murderer, and it was established he had been with Brenda at the time of her death.  (FJDB)  [1/07]

Related Case: Convicted of Father's Crime

Los Angeles County, CA

Adam Riojas, Jr.

Dec 8, 1989

Adam Riojas, Jr. was convicted of murdering Jose Rodarte in a drug related incident. Rodarte was shot twice and his body dumped from a van on a street. Riojas said he had loaned the van to two friends of his father, who had come by his Oceanside apartment. His girlfriend testified he spent the entire day of the murder with her in North County. Riojas had no criminal history except for an arrest for vandalism in a high school prank of toilet-papering a home. Riojas' father, Adam Sr., told numerous people shortly before his death that he was the killer, not his son. Adam Sr. had been involved in drugs and immigrant smuggling. Adam Jr. was released on the second unanimous recommendation of his parole board. (Gov. Davis vetoed the first recommendation; but Gov. Schwarzenegger did not oppose the second). Riojas served 13 years of 15 years to life sentence.  (Archives)  [4/08]

Related Case: Convicted of Sister's Crime

Clark County, WA 

Reshenda Strickland

Mar 21, 2003

Reshenda Strickland was convicted of shoplifting based on the erroneous eyewitness ID of store manager Kathy Hanna and loss prevention officer Dawn Porter. After the conviction, a review of the store's video surveillance tapes showed that Strickland's sister, Starlisha, who had claimed to be in Atlanta at the time of the crime, was the actual thief. Strickland spent three months in jail.  (Seattle PI) (Columbian)  [10/05]