Favorite Case Stories

43 Cases

Mobile County, AL

Michael Pardue

May 22, 1973

After days of police interrogation at the Saraland Police Department, Michael Pardue, 17, confessed to brutally murdering Ronald Rider, 20, and Harvey Hodges, 68, attendants at two gas stations 16 miles apart in Mobile and Baldwin counties. He also confessed to the murder of a skeleton, which happened to be found in a Mobile County ditch during the interrogation. The skeleton was later identified as Theodore White, 43, and his cause of death is officially listed as unknown. Using similar tactics the police coerced Pardue's associates John Brown, 21, and Theresa Lanier, 15, to sign confessions, although Brown could not read and the three confessions contradicted each other as well as the forensic and physical facts of the cases.
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Shelby County, AL

Patrick Swiney

Dec 10, 1987

Patrick Swiney was convicted of murdering his wife, Betty Snow Swiney, and her ex-husband, Ronald Pate. One night, when Swiney was approaching his house, he blacked out, stating that he felt as though he'd been hit on the head with a baseball bat. He awoke in his house with a serious bruise on his head and with the rifle he kept in his truck lying near him. He found his wife and her ex-husband lying on the floor, shot dead with bullets assumed to have been fired from the rifle.
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Pima County, AZ

Louis Taylor

Dec 21, 1970 (Tucson)

Louis C. Taylor was convicted of 28 counts of first-degree murder. He was accused of setting fire to the Pioneer International Hotel on the northeast corner of Stone Ave. and Pennington St. in downtown Tucson. Twenty-nine people died as a result of the fire, including one woman who died months later from injuries sustained in the fire. Taylor, 16, whose juvenile-court record included theft, was accused of setting the fire (or fires) as a diversion so he could steal from guests' rooms. No one saw him set the fire. But a hotel employee saw him in a stairwell looking up at the flames and mentioned him to police. Other witnesses said he was one of that night's heroes, helping to evacuate the hotel.

The chief arson investigator found no obvious evidence of arson – no residue of flammable liquid or burned matchsticks. Instead he asserted from burn patterns that two fires were started at least 60 feet apart on the fourth floor hallway. Modern experts now dispute the arson finding, and even one of the original investigators, Marshall Smyth, said that he and another fire investigator were like members of “a black magic society” that in those days relied on untested assumptions about what indicated arson. “I came to this opinion some time ago that neither one of us had any business identifying that fire as arson.”

Taylor, after decades of imprisonment, recalled that over the years others – including his former trial judge – advised him to seek a reduced sentence. But one condition was that he admit guilt and show remorse. Taylor said, “I told them I'd rather die in prison.” In 2003, the case was featured on a 60 Minutes episode.  (Hotel Online)  [1/07]

Yuma County, AZ

Jimmy Lee Mathers

June 8, 1987 (Yuma)

Jimmy Lee Mathers associated with Teddy Washington and Fred Robinson. The three lived in Banning, a small town in Southern California. Robinson was in a volatile relationship with his common-law wife, Susan Hill. With Robinson's permission, Hill went to visit her father and stepmother, Ralph and Sterleen Hill. The couple lived in Yuma, Arizona. Susan then refused to return, and got a protection order to prevent Robinson from visiting her there. She then left without telling Robinson and visited her grandmother in California. Ralph and Sterleen then were shot during a home invasion. Sterleen died.

The invasion appeared to be a robbery as the intruders stated they were narcotics agents and said, “We want the dope and money.” The house was also ransacked. There was some circumstantial evidence linking Robinson and Washington to the crime. However, there was little evidence linking Mathers. Nevertheless, the three were arrested and tried together. At trial, Mathers' attorney moved for a judgment of acquittal on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The motion was denied. All three defendants were convicted and sentenced to death.

In 1990, the Arizona Supreme Court reviewed Mathers' case, and “viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution” found a “complete absence of probative facts.” It noted that the evidence presented at trial had “nothing to do with Mathers.” The court vacated Mathers' conviction and entered a judgment of acquittal.  (TWM)  [3/07]

Pulaski County, AR

James Dean Walker

Apr 16, 1963

James Dean Walker was convicted of murdering Police Officer Jerrell Vaughn of North Little Rock. Walker and a companion, Russell Kumpe, were at a Little Rock nightclub with two women, one of whom was Linda Ford. Following an altercation at the club in which another patron was shot, Kumpe, Walker, and Ford left in Kumpe's Oldsmobile. Kumpe drove, while Walker sat in the passenger seat, with Ford sitting in the center. Police Officer Gene Barentine pursued and stopped the car and parked his vehicle behind it. Officer Vaughan arrived on the scene almost immediately thereafter, as did two cabdrivers.
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 Los Angeles County, CA

McMartin Preschool

1983 (Manhattan Beach)

In 1983, a mentally unbalanced woman named Judy Johnson enrolled her two-year-old son, Matthew, in the McMartin Preschool. She became obsessed with Matthew's rectal problems and began thinking they were a result of sexual abuse. Soon Judy was making accusations against Ray Buckey, 28, the only male who worked at the school and who was the grandson of Virginia McMartin, 79, the school's founder. Matthew denied abuse at first, but soon Judy was making more accusations against Ray based on what Matthew allegedly said.
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Los Angeles County, CA

O. J. Simpson

June 12, 1994 (Brentwood)

Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson was found civilly liable for the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, 35, and Ronald Lyle Goldman, 25. He had earlier been acquitted of the murders in criminal court, but he is perceived by many as guilty despite his acquittal. The victims, who were white, were found outside Nicole's home at 875 S. Bundy Drive in Brentwood, CA. O.J., who was black, was a Heisman trophy winner, a Hollywood movie actor, a network TV football commentator, and was known for the TV commercials he made for the Hertz Rental Car Agency. He was the most famous American ever charged with murder. O.J.'s criminal trial was dubbed the “Trial of the Century,” although that designation had previously been used to describe the 1935 trial of the alleged Lindbergh baby killer.
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Los Angeles County, CA

Juan Catalan

May 12, 2003 (Sun Valley)

Juan Catalan was charged with the murder of 16-year-old Martha Puebla. Puebla had testified against Catalan's brother in another case. Catalan insisted that he was watching the Los Angeles Dodgers with his six-year-old daughter at the stadium minutes before Puebla was killed about 20 miles north of the stadium. He said he had ticket stubs from the game and testimony from his family. However, police said that they had a witness who placed Catalan at the scene of the crime.

Catalan's attorney, Todd Melnik, subpoenaed the Dodgers and Fox Networks, who owned the team, to scan videotape of the televised baseball game and footage from its “Dodger Vision” cameras. Some of the videotapes showed where Catalan was sitting but Melnik could not make him out. Melnik later learned that HBO had been at the stadium the night of the killing to tape an episode of the TV show Curb Your Enthusiasm. The attorney found what he was looking for in footage that had not made the final cut. “I got to one of the scenes, and there is my client sitting in a corner of the frame eating a hot dog with his daughter,” Melnik said. “I nearly jumped out of my chair and said, ‘There he is!’”

The tapes had time codes that allowed Melnik to find out exactly when Catalan was at the ballpark. Melnik also obtained cell phone records that placed his client near the stadium later that night, about 20 minutes before the murder. The attorney said it would have been impossible for Catalan to get out of the parking lot, change vehicles and clothing, and play with his daughter as well as kill Puebla during that span.

Catalan, who could have been sentenced to death had he been convicted of murder, was released after 5 1/2 months of imprisonment because a judge ruled there was no evidence with which to try him.  (CBS)  [7/07]

San Francisco County, CA

Berdue & Wildred

Feb 19, 1851

Thomas Berdue and Joseph Wildred were convicted of robbery. The victim, Charles Jansen, was the proprietor of a wholesale dry goods establishment on Montgomery Street. Jansen was struck on the head with a bar of iron and robbed by two men of several thousand dollars in coin and gold dust. Police recognized from Jansen's description that one of the robbers was James Stuart, the leader of a feared band of escaped Australian convicts. Stuart was also wanted for the murder of a sheriff in Yuba County.
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Siskiyou County, CA

Coke & John Brite

Aug 30, 1936 (Horse Creek)

Coke and John Brite, brothers, were convicted of the murders of deputy sheriffs Martin Lange and Joseph Clarke, as well as the murder of Captain Fred Seaborn, a U.S. Navy officer. The Brites, who were gold prospectors, returned to a cabin on their rented land, where their parents stayed, and then headed out again. At nightfall they set up camp on the land of a neighbor, B. F. Decker, and went to bed. Two intruders then entered their camp, another neighbor, Charley Baker, and his friend, Fred Seaborn. At trial, Baker alleged they were looking for a strayed horse that Baker owned. It was later learned that Baker had been using the cabin on the Brites' property for rent-free storage and had motive to drive the Brites from their land. Baker and Seaborn picked a fight with the Brites, which proved to be a mistake as the Brites made quick work of them. Baker then went to a judge and talked him into issuing warrants charging the Brites with assault.
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 Hinsdale County, CO

Alferd Packer


Alferd Packer was convicted of murdering five prospectors he had guided into the mountains during the winter of 1873-74 and who had become stranded there with him. Packer contended that one day when he returned to camp after looking for food, one of the prospectors, Shannon Bell, had killed the others and was roasting a piece of meat he had cut out of leg of one of them. Bell then attacked Packer with a hatchet and Packer shot Bell in self-defense. Packer said he tried to find a way out of the mountains every day, but could not, so he lived off the flesh of the dead men. Packer escaped execution on a technicality. Under pressure from a campaign led by a Denver Post columnist, Packer was granted a conditional parole in 1901 after 18 years in prison. Modern forensics and the journal of a Civil War veteran who had seen the bodies appear to confirm Packer's story.  [6/05]

DeSoto County, FL 

James Richardson

Oct 25, 1967 (Arcadia)

James Joseph Richardson, a farm worker, was convicted of murdering his oldest child after all seven of his children were poisoned with the pesticide parathion. The children, six daughters and a son, ranged in age from 2 to 8. Richardson was believed to have murdered all seven, but for strategic reasons was only tried for the murder of one. If he had been acquitted, he could have been tried successively for murders of each of the others, giving the prosecution seven chances of a conviction. Richardson was sentenced to death.
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 Leon County, FL

Quincy Five

Sept 18, 1970 (Tallahassee)

After Khomas Revels, an off-duty deputy sheriff, was murdered during a robbery of Luke's Grocery store, Tallahassee police charged five black men from Quincy, Florida with the crime. One of these men, David Keaton, was an 18-year-old star football player with plans to enter the ministry. Although he had an alibi, Keaton was held in custody for more than a week. During that time he maintained he had been threatened, lied to, and beaten until he confessed. He believed that despite his confession, no jury would convict him when they heard his alibi. He was wrong. At trial his coerced confession was buttressed by the false testimony of five eyewitnesses. Keaton was convicted and sentenced to death. In his confession Keaton implicated Johnnie Frederick, who was “clean as a whistle,” in the belief that a judge and jury would see that his confession was false. Frederick was convicted as well and sentenced to life in prison.

David Charles Smith and two other Quincy defendants still awaited trial. In the meantime, a witness arose, Benjamin Franklin Pye, who knew the actual men who committed the crime. The men were from Jacksonville, not Quincy, though Pye knew only their street names. But he knew the motel where they had stayed, the dates, and the rental car they drove. He was with them when they cased Luke's to rob it later. Pye gave this information to his attorney, who in turn relayed it to Smith's attorney, Will Varn. Varn was a former U.S. attorney, and he was able to get funds from the judge to hire an investigator who came up with names to fit Pye's story. The names also fit the crime scene fingerprints that had not matched any of the Quincy Five. The three Jacksonville men were tried and convicted.

Despite the new evidence, the state continued to insist the Quincy Five were guilty as well. When Smith came to trial, five white eyewitnesses swore he was guilty. But Varn had the conflicting fingerprints and convictions, Pye's testimony, and a good alibi for Smith. An all-white jury acquitted him. The Florida Supreme Court took note and ordered new trials for Keaton and Frederick. The prosecution soon dropped charges against Keaton and Frederick, as well as against the remaining two Quincy defendants. Keaton and Frederick were released in 1973. In 1974 Tallahassee writer Jeffrey Lickson published a 142-page book about the case entitled David Charles: The Story of the Quincy Five.  (SP Times) (TWM) (FLCC) (SPT1) (SPT2) (OSB) (Papers)  [3/07]

 Orange County, FL

Tommy Zeigler

Dec 24, 1975

William Thomas Zeigler Jr. was sentenced to death for the murders of four people in his furniture store. The store was located at 1010 S. Dillard St. in Winter Garden, FL. The victims were Zeigler's wife, Eunice, her parents, Perry and Virginia Edwards, and a black customer, Charlie Mays. Zeigler, himself, was critically shot.
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 Cook County, IL

David Dowaliby

Sept 10, 1988 (Midlothian)

David Dowaliby was convicted of murdering his 7-year-old stepdaughter, Jaclyn. Police initially assumed that the window, through which an intruder had allegedly entered to abduct Jaclyn, had been broken from the inside of their home. There was more broken glass on the outside than on the inside but forensic analysis established that it had been broken from the outside. During the investigation, Dowaliby and his wife, Cynthia, had followed police advice not to talk to the press, but such refusal had made them appear guilty.

At trial, for which both Dowaliby and his wife were charged with first-degree murder, the prosecution presented a witness, with a history of mental illness, who stated that he saw someone with a nose structure resembling Dowaliby on the night the victim had disappeared and near where her body was found five days later. This witness, Everett Mann, made this identification from an unlighted parking lot 75 yards away on a moonless night. The prosecution also presented 17 gruesome autopsy photos that are disallowed in many jurisdictions because they serve to prejudice a jury. The trial judge gave Dowaliby's wife a directed verdict of acquittal, but the jury convicted Dowaliby.

Afterwards, in an interview, the jury forewoman said that fist marks on the door of a bedroom were critical to the jury's decision to convict Dowaliby. These marks appeared in one of the evidence photos, but were never mentioned by either side. The jury concluded from these marks that Dowaliby had a terrible temper. In fact, they had no bearing on the case, as they had been present years earlier, before the Dowalibys had moved into their home. The jury forewoman also said, that if given the chance, the jury would have convicted Dowalibly's wife as well.

An appeals court reversed Dowaliby's conviction in 1991, on the grounds of insufficient evidence. The case came to a legal end in 1992 when the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by the prosecution. The case is the subject of a book, Gone in the Night: The Dowaliby Family's Encounter With Murder and the Law by Protess and Warden (1993).  (CWC) (American Justice)  [12/06]

Allen County, IN 

Ralph Lobaugh


Ralph Woodrow Lobaugh was sentenced to death for the murders of three women. Within an 18-month period of time, four women were abducted and killed in the Fort Wayne area: Wilhelmina Haaga, 38, on Feb. 2, 1944, Anna Kuzeff, 20, on May 22, 1944, Phyllis Conine, 17, on Aug. 6, 1944, and Dorothea Howard, 36, on Mar. 6, 1945. The murders of these women were all committed during inclement weather. They were possibly the work of a single serial killer dubbed “The Killer in the Rain.” There were some differences between the first three murders and Howard's murder, suggesting a different killer had murdered Howard.
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Neosho County, KS 

Willie Sell

Mar 8, 1886

Willie Sell was convicted of murdering his parents, brother, and sister. In the early morning hours of March 8, 1886, 16-year-old Willie banged on the door of a neighbor, Robert Mendell, talking hysterically and incoherently. Mendell did not understand Willie's story, but had caught the words, “blood, murder and hatchet.” Mendell accompanied Willie back to his family's two-room house. On the floor lay the bodies of Willie's father, James W. Sell, a schoolteacher and farmer, and Willie's mother, Susan. In the corner, still in her bed, was Willie's teenage sister, Ina. Their skulls had been beaten with a hatchet and their throats had been cut. The floor was slick with blood. In an adjoining room, where Willie had been sleeping, was the body of Willie's brother, Watta Sell, 19, who was killed in the same manner as the other members of his family.
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Harlan County, KY 

Condy Dabney

Aug 23, 1925 (Coxton)

Condy Dabney was convicted of murdering Mary Vickery, 14, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Vickery had disappeared on Aug. 23, 1925. A month later a girl's body was found nearby in an abandoned mine shaft. After Mary's father had posted a $500 reward for information, a woman named Marie Jackson came forward and claimed to have witnessed Dabney murder Vickery.

The prosecution's case against Dabney was weak. The found body was too decayed to be dead only a month and witnesses disputed Jackson's whereabouts on the day of the alleged murder. Still Dabney was convicted. Twelve months after Dabney's conviction, a police officer in Williamsburg, KY, 85 miles away, happened to notice the name Mary Vickery on a hotel register. Because the name seemed familiar, he spoke with her and realized that she was the person Dabney was convicted of murdering. Mary said she ran away because she was not getting along with her stepmother. Dabney was released and Jackson was convicted of perjury. The found body was never identified.  (CWC) (CTI)  [10/05]

Plaquemines Parish, LA 

Alvin Latham

July 16, 2000

After a storm at sea, a shrimp boat named “The Bandit,” containing Alvin Latham and the ship's captain, Raymond Leiker, failed to return to its home port of Venice, LA. Latham was picked up at sea 14 hours later holding onto a piece of wood. He said the storm came up suddenly and that while trying to pull fish into the boat, Leiker's foot got caught in a fishing net. Latham tried to help Leiker free his foot, but eventually Leiker told him to save himself. Moments after Latham swam away from the boat, the boat submerged into the sea.
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Baltimore City, MD 

Michael Austin

Apr 29, 1974

Michael Austin was convicted of shooting to death Roy Kellam, a security guard, at a Crown Food Market. A store clerk, Jackie Robinson, who identified Austin at trial, had changed his initial description of the shooter after police charged him in another case. Robinson's family later said Jackie was not a civic-minded college student as prosecutors told jurors, but a drug dealer. Following Robinson's death by heroin overdose in 1997, his brother came forward and said that Jackie had confessed to him that he sent an innocent man to prison. Another eyewitness, the store's assistant manager, was not called at trial, but had given a physical description that did not fit Austin. Austin also clocked out of his factory job at 4:53 p.m., 27 minutes before the murder, and given the distance from his job to the store, could not have committed the murder.

In July 2001, after spending 27 years in prison, Austin's lawyer presented overwhelming evidence of his innocence, police misconduct, and ineffective counsel by his original defense lawyer. A key piece of evidence was the eyewitness testimony of Erik Komitzski, the assistant store manager. Komitzski, who is 5 feet 9 inches tall, said he knew, absolutely, that the shooter was not taller than himself because he stood eyeball to eyeball with him. Austin is 6 feet 5 inches tall. Austin was freed in Dec. 2001, pardoned in 2003, and was awarded $1.4 million in 2004 for his 27 years of wrongful imprisonment.  (AP News) (CM)  [9/06]

Wayne County, MI 

Dominique Brim

Apr 15, 2002 (Lincoln Park)

A security guard at the Sears store in Lincoln Park stopped a woman leaving the store on April 15, 2002 with $1,300 in unpaid merchandise. In an attempt to get away, the woman severely bit the guard. After being arrested, the woman was taken to a police station where she told police her address, her phone number, that she was 15-years-old, and that her name was Dominique Brim. She was allowed to leave without being booked.

Two weeks later, 15-year-old Dominique Brim was charged with retail fraud and felony assault. She claimed she had not been at the store on April 15 and that she had not been arrested. In court, several Sears employees, including the security guard, identified her as the person who was apprehended and who bit the guard. The judge did not believe Brim's mistaken identity defense and convicted her on both counts.

However, Brim's vehement claim that she was the wrong person did impress Sears officials enough to review their store videotape of the April 15 incident. They discovered that Brim was not the person who was involved in the incident. After the prosecutor and Brim's lawyer were contacted, the judge vacated her conviction before she was sentenced. The woman on the tape was later identified as Chalaunda Latham. She was not 15-years-old, she was 25. Latham was able to pass herself off as Brim because she was a friend of Brim's sister. Prosecutors decided not to charge Latham because the Sears employees had already given sworn testimony that Brim was responsible for the theft and security guard assault.  (Justice: Denied)  [3/07]

Boone County, MO 

Ferguson & Erickson

Nov 1, 2001 (Columbia)

Ryan Ferguson and Chuck Erickson were convicted of the brutal murder of Columbia Tribune sports editor Kent Heitholt. A janitor, Jerry Trump, caught a glimpse of two young white men running away from Heitholt's car around the time of the murder. The janitor said he could not provide a detailed description of them. Two years after the crime, after reading anniversary newspaper coverage, Erickson began telling friends he dreamed he had killed Heitholt.
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Essex County, NJ 

Bill MacFarland

Oct 17, 1911 (Newark)

William Allison MacFarland, also known as “Bill,” took cyanide home from the plant where he worked. He used it to make a solution of the poison for his wife, who had used it to clean her jewelry and silverware. Bill explained he had taken an almost empty bromide bottle and poured the contents into another bromide bottle, which was almost full. He then funneled the poison solution into the now empty bromide bottle. To avoid any possible confusion, he affixed a poison label on the bromide bottle containing the cyanide. Bill then placed both bottles on a bathroom shelf.
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Wyoming County, NY

Attica Massacre Victims

Sept 13, 1971

Prompted by horrendous conditions, the 1281 inmates at the New York state prison in Attica took over the prison on Sept. 9, 1971 and took the guards there hostage. One guard died died during the takeover due to his own attempt to be heroic. The hostages were treated well and were guarded by the inmate leadership from potential assault from lone inmates. The guard hostages were dressed in ordinary inmate clothing so that potential outside snipers would not be able to tell whom they were shooting at. The uprising began as an unfocused riot, but grew into a focused and reasonable demand for better prison conditions.
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Stark County, OH

Dale Bundy

Nov 23, 1956

Harry Dale Bundy was convicted of murdering Reynold P. Amodio during a holdup of the County Line Market north of Uniontown. Amodio was the store manager. A clerk, Paul E. Cain, was also killed.  In Feb. 1957, a few months after the crime, Bundy's friend and former co-worker, Russell T. McCoy, visited him when he was working the night shift at a Zanesville plant. McCoy asked Bundy for a loan and told him he had just murdered the people he lived with. Bundy did not believe McCoy's story and told him to go home. McCoy, age 22, then threatened Bundy, age 39, with a gun and told him not to repeat what he heard.
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Summit County, OH

Denny Ross

May 20, 1999

Denny Frederick Ross was tried in Akron for the murder of 18-year-old Hannah Hill. Hill had disappeared one night and her body was found stuffed in the trunk of her Geo Prizm six days later. She had been beaten and strangled. Her body was found naked from the waist down and her bra and shirt were pushed up over her breasts. This display of her body suggested she was raped, but an autopsy found no evidence of rape and also determined that she was wearing her corduroy pants when she died. Hill had been romantic with Ross on the night of her disappearance and one theory of her murder is that her jealous and abusive boyfriend, Brad O'Born, had killed her for her infidelity. O'Born had scratch marks on his neck when police questioned him in the days following her disappearance.
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Pontotoc County, OK 

Ward & Fontenot

Apr 28, 1984 (Ada)

Tommy Ward and Karl Fontenot were convicted of murdering Denice Haraway. Haraway, 24, worked part-time at McAnally's convenience store. She was last seen leaving the store with a man who had his arm around her waist. The two appeared to be a pair of lovers. The store was found deserted with the cash register drawer opened and emptied. Haraway's purse and driver's license were found inside, and her car nearby.
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Dauphin County, PA

Jay Smith

June 24, 1979

Dr. Jay Charles Smith was sentenced to death in 1985 for the 1979 murders of Susan Gallagher Reinert and her two children. Smith was the principal of Upper Merion Senior High School (in Montgomery County) from 1966 until 1978 and Reinert was a teacher there. He had a PhD and was also an Army Reserve colonel. In 1978, he was promoted from his principal's position to work directly for the Upper Merion Area School District.
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Shelby County, TN 

Phillip Workman

Aug 5, 1981 (Memphis)

Phillip Workman robbed a Wendy's restaurant with a .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. On leaving, police officers gave chase and Workman tripped on a curb. He yelled, “I give up!” and tried to pull his gun from his pants to give to officers. As he tried to surrender his weapon, he was hit on the head with a flashlight. At that moment his pistol went off, aimed straight up at the sky. Suddenly he was surrounded by gunfire, and he tried to run again, but tripped and his gun went off, firing another shot into the air. Workman escaped the immediate melee, but a civilian found him hiding under a truck. He was covered with blood from his head wound, and had a shotgun wound to his buttocks.

At the scene of the shootout, a police officer, Lt. Ronald Oliver, lay dying from a bullet that passed completely through his body. Oliver would soon be dead. Workman was convicted of Oliver's murder and sentenced to death. In 1990, exculpatory ballistic evidence was discovered that showed that Oliver was not shot by a bullet from Workman's gun. Instead, Oliver must have been killed by “friendly fire.” An eyewitness at trial, Harold Davis, recanted testimony that he had seen the shooting. The police report on the crime scene never noted Davis's presence and five other people near the scene do not remember seeing Davis.

A civilian eyewitness, Steve Craig, who never testified at trial, said he saw Officer Parker fire a shotgun at Workman. Craig also stated that police told him, “There was no need to talk about this ... unless it was with someone from the department.” In the trial transcript, Officers Stoddard and Parker repeatedly testified that only two people fired guns, Workman and Oliver. Ballistics and Craig's statements imply Officers Stoddard and Parker committed perjury. The new evidence caused Workman's scheduled execution date to be postponed several times. Workman was executed by lethal injection on May 9, 2007.  (Justice: Denied)  [1/07]

Bexar County, TX 

Ruben Cantu

Nov 8, 1984

Ruben Cantu was convicted of murdering Pedro Gomez, a Mexican laborer. Gomez was robbed and shot to death while he was sleeping in a house under construction on Briggs Street in South San Antonio. The house was right across the street from where Cantu, then 17, lived with his father. Cantu was executed by lethal injection on Aug. 24, 1993. Following Cantu's execution, witnesses have come forward to exonerate him.

Juan Moreno, who was wounded during the attempted robbery and a key eyewitness in the case against Cantu, now says that it was not Cantu who shot him and that he only identified Cantu as the shooter because he felt pressured and was afraid of the authorities. Moreno said that he twice told police that Cantu was not his assailant, but that the authorities continued to pressure him to identify Cantu as the shooter after Cantu was involved in an unrelated wounding of a police officer. “The police were sure it was [Cantu] because he had hurt a police officer. They told me they were certain it was him, and that's why I testified.”

David Garza, Cantu's co-defendant during his 1985 trial, signed a sworn affidavit saying that he allowed Cantu to be accused and executed even though he was not with him on the night of the killing. Garza stated, “Part of me died when he died. You've got a 17-year-old who went to his grave for something he did not do. Texas murdered an innocent person.”

Sam D. Millsap, Jr., the Bexar County District Attorney who charged Cantu with capital murder, said he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on testimony from an eyewitness who identified a suspect only after police showed him Cantu's photo three separate times. Miriam Ward, forewoman of the jury that convicted Cantu, noted, “With a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information. The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that.”  (Houston Chronicle)  [1/07]

Burleson County, TX 

Anthony Graves

Aug 18, 1992 (Sommerville)

Anthony Graves was sentenced to death after an admitted mass murderer fingered him as an accomplice in order to protect his wife from prosecution. In 1992, Robert Earl Carter, a 27-year-old prison guard, was under pressure from his ex-girlfriend, Lisa Davis, to increase child support for their son Jason. He was already supporting his wife, Theresa, and their son, Ryan. Anger over increasing child support payments does not fully explain Carter's subsequent actions, but it is the only motive that has been suggested. Carter, reportedly, was a kind, gentle, and pleasant man, so presumably something within him snapped.
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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]

Gray County, TX 

Hank Skinner

Dec 31, 1993 (Pampa)

Henry Watkins Skinner, also known as Hank, was convicted of bludgeoning to death his live-in girlfriend, Twila Busby, and stabbing to death her two sons, Randy Busby and Scooter Caler. Hank was sentenced to death. The murders occurred at 801 East Campbell Ave. in Pampa. Hank, then 31, had been drinking earlier in the evening and passed out after taking codeine to which he was severely allergic. A friend, Howard Mitchell, arrived to take Hank and Twila to a New Year's Eve Party at 9:30 p.m., but he could not rouse Hank.
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Harris County, TX 

Max Soffar

July 13, 1980 (Houston)

Max Soffar was convicted of murdering Arden Alane Felsher, 17, Tommy Lee Temple, 17, and Stephen Allen Sims, 25, during a robbery of the Fair Lanes Windfern Bowling Center. He was sentenced to death. Soffar, 24, a mentally impaired individual, confessed to the murders after hours of police interrogation. No physical evidence connected him to the crime. A fourth victim, Gregory Garner, survived a gunshot wound to the head but failed to identify Soffar as a participant in the robbery.
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 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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Montgomery County, TX 

LaBonte & LaFleur

June 8, 1997 (Conroe)

Lonnie LaBonte and Russell LaFleur were convicted of the murders of Misty Morgan and Sarah Cleary. LaBonte knew Morgan because she was the girlfriend of his friend, Gerald Barton. LaFleur was a young man who stayed at LaBonte's residence for about two weeks around the time of the murders. During a police interrogation, LaFleur confessed to witnessing LaBonte commit the murders. He said the confession was coerced because police had put a syringe to his arm and threatened to kill him while making it appear that he killed himself with an overdose of drugs.
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Travis County, TX 

Danziger & Ochoa

Nov 24, 1988 (Austin)

Richard Danziger and Christopher Ochoa were roommates who worked at an Austin Pizza Hut. While visiting another Austin Pizza Hut they raised suspicions when they asked employees questions about the murder of a manager there. The manager was twenty-year-old Nancy Depriest who was raped and killed at that location two weeks before. The two were brought in for police questioning and under coercion Ochoa confessed first to the rape and then only to the murder of DePriest. In order to avoid the death penalty he agreed to testify against Danziger for the other crime. Both men were convicted and given life sentences.

Eight years later another prisoner, Achim Marino, serving three life sentences, began writing letters to police, the DA, Gov. Bush, a newspaper, and the ACLU, confessing to the rape and murder of DePriest. He said he did not know Ochoa or Danziger or why anyone would confess to a crime he had committed. Marino had apparently undergone a religious conversion while attending AA/NA and felt obliged to confess his responsibility for the DePriest murder. Although Marino exhibited detailed knowledge of the crime, the letters had little effect. Austin Police did go to interview Ochoa, but he continued to profess guilt. Later he explained that he feared claiming innocence would hurt his chance for parole.

Three years afterward Ochoa reconsidered and contacted the Wisconsin Innocence Project. After DNA tests were done, both he and Danziger were exonerated and released. The tests also confirmed that Marino was the perpetrator. While in prison, Danziger was severely beaten by another prisoner and suffered severe brain damage that incapacitated him for life. Danziger and Ochoa were awarded $9 million and $5.3 million respectively in 2003 for 13 years of wrongful imprisonment.  (IP1) (IP2) (CWC1) (CWC2) (Frontline)  [9/05]

Bennington County, VT 

Jesse & Stephen Boorn

1812 (Manchester)

When Russel Colvin disappeared in 1812, suspicion of foul play fell on his brothers-in-law, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, who held Colvin in disdain. Seven years later, the uncle of the suspects had a recurring dream in which Colvin appeared to him and said that he had been slain. Colvin did not identify his killers but said that his remains had been put in a cellar hole on the Boorn farm. The cellar hole was excavated but no remains were found. Shortly afterward, a dog unearthed some large bones from beneath a nearby stump. Three local physicians examined the bones and declared them human.

Officials took Jesse Boorn into custody. They would have arrested Stephen Boorn as well, but he had moved to New York. While in custody, Jesse's cellmate, forger Silas Merill, told authorities that Jesse confessed. In return for agreeing to testify against Jesse, Merrill was released from jail. Faced with mounting evidence against him, Jesse admitted to the murder, but placed principal blame on Stephen, who legally was beyond the reach of the local authorities. However, a Vermont constable met up with Stephen, and Stephen agreed to return to Vermont with him to clear his name. After his return to Vermont, Stephen confessed as well, although he claimed to have acted in self-defense.

The local physicians then changed their minds that the found bones were human, and declared them animal. Nevertheless, the prosecution pressed ahead with its case and both of the Boorn brothers were convicted and sentenced to death. The Vermont legislature commuted Jesse's sentence to life in prison, but denied relief to Stephen. Shortly before Stephen was to be hanged in 1820, Colvin was found living in New Jersey. On Colvin's return to Vermont, both brothers were released.  (CWC) (CTI)  [12/05]

Nansemond County, VA 

Ernest Lyons

July 31, 1908 (Reid's Ferry)

Ernest Lyons, the newly elected pastor of small church in Reid's Ferry, got into a quarrel with the old pastor, James Smith, over $45 in church funds. Lyons threatened to kill Smith. Smith soon disappeared from the community. A few months afterwards a decomposed body that seemed to match Smith's description was found near Suffolk. When questioned, Lyons stated he had seen Smith in Portsmouth, Norfolk, and Newport News. These statements were shown to be untrue.

After Lyons' trial and conviction, the judge was willing to grant his lawyer's motion for a hearing for a new trial, but only after the lawyer went to Lyons, told him the motion was denied, and asked what really happened. When the lawyer followed instructions, Lyons stated he had been involved in the murder as part of a conspiracy with church members who had testified for the prosecution. Three years later Smith was located living in North Carolina. He had read newspaper stories about Lyons' trial and conviction, but had done nothing because he feared prosecution for absconding with the $45 over which he and Lyons had quarreled.  (CWC) (CTI)  [7/05]  (Note: Nansemond County became a city in 1972, then merged with the existing City of Suffolk in 1974).

Pierce County, WA 

Gary Benn

Feb 10, 1988 (Puyallup)

Gary Michael Benn was sentenced to death for the shooting murders of his half-brother, Jack Dethlefsen, and his half-brother's friend, Michael Nelson. The shootings occurred in Dethlefsen's house. At trial Benn did not testify directly, but he made statements to a third party who testified to his version of events. According to this version, the killings were in self-defense. Benn's version was reasonably corroborated by the position of the bodies relative to the guns in the house. The killings were presumably not premeditated as Benn did not use his own gun, but had left it in his car. Dethlefsen had a reputation for violence.
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Milwaukee County, WI 

Laurie Bembenek

May 28, 1981

Lawrencia Bembenek, also known as Bambi, was convicted of murdering Christine Schultz, her husband's ex-wife. Bambi's husband Fred Schultz was a police officer as was his ex-wife. Bambi had become a police officer and was stunned by the amount of graft going on in the department: officers selling pornography from their cars, accepting oral sex from hookers, frequenting drug hangouts, and harassing minorities.
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Outgamie County, WI 

Kenneth Hudson

June 25, 2000

Kenneth Hudson was convicted of the murder of Shanna Van Dyn Hoven, a 19-year-old UW-Madison student. Police alleged that Hudson, then 31, was caught with blood on his hands, chest, and legs after leading them on a high-speed chase. They also said he confessed to the crime. Prosecutors said Hudson stabbed Van Dyn Hoven, a stranger, in a fit of misplaced rage, and then tried to put her in his truck.

Hudson said he tried to help the woman when she fled from the woods, covered in blood. She sat briefly in his truck, but fled when David Carnot, a retired police detective's son, came out from the woods. Hudson drove off because he feared Carnot would attack him, and fled from police because he had marijuana on him, had an expired license, and had been drinking. After he was pulled over and arrested, Hudson fell asleep in the back of a police cruiser but awoke to find a Kaukauna police officer pouring a red liquid on him that appeared to be blood. After telling the officer to stop, Hudson was moved to a second police cruiser where another officer smeared something on his chest and hands. Hudson has maintained this story from the hours following his arrest. He also denied making any confession.

Despite Hudson's bloody hands, no blood was found on his steering wheel or gearshift. Tests revealed animal blood was on Hudson's foot. Other tests revealed no DNA in blood samples. A lab analyst suggested the samples could have been chemically contaminated so that the DNA in the material could not be tested. Transcripts and a tape of the 911 communications that day omit nearly all transmissions mentioning the murder and chase. A recently uncovered dispatch log and 911 tape shows that two Grand Chute police officers who said they were involved in Hudson's chase and arrest, did not arrive until 90 minutes afterward. Other evidence discrepancies exist with a knife, vials of Van Dyn Hoven's blood, and a missing window crank from Hudson's truck, allegedly found next to the victim's body. The DA in the case, Vince Biskupic, had been cited for a number of unrelated ethics violations, as was his former boss, Joe Paulus, who was sent to prison on bribery related convictions.  (WSJ) (WSJ2)  [9/06]


Asbury & McKie

Jan 8, 1997 (Kilmarnock)

David Asbury was convicted of murdering 51-year-old Marion Ross and stealing a biscuit tin from her containing £1800. The victim's ribs were crushed and she was stabbed in the eye with scissors. The scissors were left embedded in her throat. There were no signs of forced entry, but police discovered that some builders, including Asbury, had had access to her home the previous year. During a search of Asbury's apartment, Detective Shirley McKie found a biscuit tin in his bedroom containing £1800. Asbury maintained the tin and the money were his. However the Scottish Fingerprint Service, a division of the Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO), found Ross's fingerprint on it. Since the tin provided a possible motive of theft for the murder, police believed the tin had belonged to the victim. At Asbury's trial for murder, expert witnesses from the SCRO testified that a fingerprint found on the tin was that of Ross.
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