by Hugo Adam Bedau and Michael L. Radelet

Excerpt from Appendix A: Catalogue of Defendants

PFEFFER, PAUL (white). 1954. New York. Pfeffer was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty years to life. At his trial, Pfeffer claimed that his confession had been obtained by coercion. On the day of his conviction, another man, John Roche, was arrested in connection with other killings and confessed to the murder for which Pfeffer had been tried. On the basis of this confession, and after passing a series of lie detector tests, Pfeffer was granted a new trial. One newspaper observed at the time, “The Pfeffer-Roche case dramatically illustrated to New York the built-in danger of its capital punishment law: the ever-present possibility of executing an innocent man.”1 Roche was never tried for this crime. For the other killings, he was tried, convicted, and executed in 1956. Pfeffer was reindicted for first-degree manslaughter. In 1955, while trial on that charge was pending, he was indicted and tried in a completely different case, convicted of second-degree murder, and sentenced to twenty years to life. A month later, the manslaughter charge in the first case was dropped.2


1. N.Y. Herald Tribune, July 20, 1954, at 1, col. 3.
2. See generally Cook, Capital Punishment: Does it Prevent Crime?, 182 NATION 194, 196 (1956); N.Y. Times, Jan. 10, 1956, at 63, col. 1; id., Dec. 10, 1955, at 42, col. 5; id., Nov. 23, 1955, at 50, col. 1; id., Oct. 25, 1955, at 34, col. 2; N.Y. Herald Tribune, Aug. 25, 1955, at 17, col. 7; id., Aug. 3, 1954, at 17, col. 1; id., July 20, 1954, at 1, col. 3.