The Innocents (1964)
by Edward D. Radin

Excerpt on

Joseph Smith

On July 18, 1963, Joseph Smith, forty-five, was released from a Pennsylvania prison after serving thirteen years for a crime he did not commit. In ordering the original charge dismissed, Judge Theodore Reimel remarked, "There's no doubt that this man is innocent."

Smith's troubles began on February 17, 1950, when two men entered a Philadelphia check-cashing service and robbed John Mitchell of $800. Not long afterward police arrested George Clark and Joseph Farro. Seasoned detectives know that it is normal procedure for bandits in such a holdup to have a third man planted outside to serve as a lookout. Their reasoning was sound. Actually the two prisoners had propositioned Smith to work with them, but he was on parole, had found prison a sobering experience, and wanted no more of it. Further, he had met a girl and was looking forward to a normal life of respectability. He had turned them down, and so Clark and Farro committed the robbery without a third man.

The detectives did not know this and, in pressing to get the prisoners to name the third man, used their familiar gambit of seeming to make a promise that is not a promise. It usually takes the form of dangling the vision of a lighter sentence by remarking that the judge will be told of the cooperation. Few detectives ever make an outright promise that the prisoner will be treated leniently; in fact, they carefully point out that they have nothing to do with sentencing, but the bait is there and it is a siren song that lures many prisoners into talking.

Since some of these men are completely amoral and without scruples, it should not be surprising that in clutching at any straw that might benefit them they do not hesitate to involve an innocent person. In this case it was Clark who sought the advantage. He named Smith as the lookout man. Clark testified against Smith, who was convicted and sentenced to ten to twenty years, his term to begin only after he had served the time he still owed on his parole.

Smith continued to protest his innocence, and his aged mother finally interested a lawyer in the case. The latter interviewed Clark, who candidly admitted that he had framed Smith in the hope of getting a lighter sentence. Farro agreed that Smith had not been involved in the holdup; he had maintained his own code of behavior and had remained quiet about his partner's frame-up.


JOSEPH SMITH, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Trial, May, 1950, Common Pleas Court; convicted by jury, armed robbery; sentence, 10 to 20 years. Freed July, 1963, on writ habeas corpus by Judge Theodore Reimel. Imprisoned 13 years. Culprit admitted frame-up. No compensation.