The Innocents (1964)
by Edward D. Radin

Excerpt on

William S. Green

Obvious lawbreakers are not the only ones who frame innocent people. A night watchman was making his rounds in Philadelphia, accompanied by an elderly friend, when he found that a rear door had been forced open in a theater. He had his friend wait some 275 feet away while he went into the theater alone, emerged with a prisoner, and brought him to a nearby police call box. When he turned momentarily to make the call, the prisoner snatched the gun away, shot and killed the watchman, and fled.

Two weeks later police received a tip that William S. Green, a Navy veteran, was the killer and were happy to find two excellent eyewitnesses, not available the night of the murder, who positively identified Green. Though the elderly friend of the night watchman could say no more than that Green looked something like the man, the other two witnesses placed themselves within twenty-five and forty feet of the call box at the time of the murder and selected Green without any hesitation.

Although the defense presented several other people who had been in the area at the time of the shooting and all of them testified that Green did not resemble the killer, he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 1957, after Green had served ten years, the man who had claimed he had been twenty-five feet away at the time of the shooting voluntarily appeared at the district attorney's office and admitted that he had perjured himself. He said the other witness, who claimed to be forty feet away, had paid him $100 for his false testimony. The other man was a homosexual who once had been beaten up by Green for making an indecent proposal, and he wanted revenge. Neither of the witnesses had been at the scene of the crime. After a thorough investigation the prosecutor learned that the recanting witness was now telling the truth. The district attorney joined with the defense counsel in asking for an appeal. The lower court refused to accept the case, and when it was brought before the state Supreme Court, the highest court in Pennsylvania ruled that Green's only remedy was to seek a pardon, that it was out of the jurisdiction of the court. In a caustic dissent Justice Michael A. Musmanno pointed out that Green had been convicted in the courts and wrote, "The court appears to be blinded by overnice legal distinctions." Green was later cleared and released.


WILLIAM GREEN, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Trial, January, 1947, Oyer and Terminer Court; convicted by jury, first degree murder; sentence, life imprisonment. January, 1948, conviction affirmed by Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Green freed, 1957, after key witness admitted frame-up. Imprisoned 10 years. No compensation.