New Jersey
Victims of the State

25 Cases

Atlantic County, NJ 

Clarence Moore

Jan 14, 1986 (Somers Point)

Clarence Moore, a black man, was convicted of raping a white woman. The woman identified Moore after her memory of the incident was refreshed using hypnosis. Hypnotically refreshed testimony is barred in many states, but was not in New Jersey. Moore was freed after serving 15 years of a life sentence for rape. An appeals court found that he was convicted largely because the victim gave racially prejudiced testimony. In summation at trial, the prosecutor stated that because Moore's wife and the victim were white, Moore had a predilection for white women. The federal appeals court labeled those remarks “outrageous” and “offensive.”  (CM)  [7/05]

Atlantic County, NJ 

Jim Andros

Apr 1, 2001 (Pleasantville)

Jim Andros, an Atlantic City police officer, was charged with suffocating his wife. Twenty months later charges were dropped after prosecutors concluded she died of a rare heart condition.  (NY Times)  [9/05]

Burlington County, NJ 

Larry Peterson

Aug 24, 1987

Larry Peterson was convicted of raping and murdering Jacqueline Harrison, 25, near a Pemberton Township soybean field. At trial four witnesses testified that he confessed to the murder. An expert testified at his trial that hairs found at the crime scene resembled Peterson's. Peterson, however, had an alibi. In addition, one witness testified that he confessed on his way to work, but work records indicated that he did not work on the day in question. In 2005, DNA tests cleared Peterson and implicated an unknown assailant. Peterson's conviction was vacated in May 2006.  (Trenton Star-Ledger) (IP)  [9/05]

Camden County, NJ 

Louis Benevente


Louis Benevente was convicted of robbing John Dougherty, a collector for a baking company, of $192. The conviction was solely due to Dougherty's testimony. Benevente was paroled after serving 5 years. After the statute of limitation for perjury expired, Dougherty admitted in 1931 that he had falsely accused Benevente to cover up $90 in company money that he had lost playing dice. Benevente, who had changed his name to Bennett, was awarded $5,000 in compensation by the NJ legislature in 1939.  (NY Times) (Not Guilty)  [7/05]

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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Essex County, NJ 

Raffaelo Morello


Raffaelo E. Morello, a recent immigrant to the U.S., was convicted of murdering his wife in 1918. His wife of a few months had threatened to commit suicide if he left her to answer a draft call for service in the World War, but Morello ignored her and his wife carried out her threat. Morello explained through an interpreter that he was responsible for his wife's death by his insistence on becoming a soldier. However, his remarks were misunderstood to merely mean that he was responsible for killing his wife. In prison after he learned to express himself well in English, he told his story to welfare workers who launched an investigation into his conviction. In 1926 this investigation resulted in him being pardoned of the crime.  (NY Times)  [8/10]

Essex County, NJ 

Rene Santana

Dec 16, 1974 (Newark)

Rene Santana was convicted in 1976 of the murder of Remigio Sanchez, an apartment building superintendent. The crime occurred during the robbery of a basement apartment on Roseville Ave. in Newark. Centurion Ministries' investigation showed the state's star witness, Roberto Gutierrez, had a secret deal with prosecutors in which charges were dropped against him in exchange for falsely testifying that he had seen Santana fleeing the scene of the murder. Santana was freed in Feb. 1986 and deported to the Dominican Republic. Before his release, Gutierrez visited him in prison and apologized.  (Star-Ledger) (Appeals)  [5/05]

Essex County, NJ 

Jorge De Los Santos

Jan 10, 1975

Jorge “Chiefie” De Los Santos was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Robert Thomas, a Newark used-car salesman. Former U.S. District Court Judge Frederick B. Lacey said testimony from a jailhouse witness “reeked of perjury,” and the prosecutor knew it. Centurion Ministries uncovered new evidence that freed De Los Santos in July 1983. De Los Santos was the first individual aided by Centurion Ministries, an organization that has helped to free over 30 individuals.  (CM)  [5/05]

Essex County, NJ 

Berryman & Bunch

Mar 1983

Earl Berryman and Michael Bunch were convicted of a 1983 rape. Bunch later died of illness in prison. U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise expressed “very serious doubt” that Berryman was involved in the crime. A Centurion Ministries investigation showed that the lead police investigator in the case also had grave doubts about the victim's identification of Berryman.

The victim initially identified Berryman and Bunch from a mug book labeled “B,” which contained photographs of all individuals with names beginning with that letter. The victim had earlier reviewed the “A” book and was told by police that, unless she could identify the suspects quickly, she would have to look through mug books for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, each containing more than 150 pictures. The record also shows that she gave vastly different physical descriptions of her assailants on three separate occasions, all of which varied substantially from Berryman's and Bunch's actual physical features.  (NACDL) (CM)  [7/05]

Essex County, NJ 

Kelly Michaels

1984-85 (Maplewood)

Margaret Kelly Michaels was convicted in 1988 of 115 counts of sexual abuse against 20 children and sentenced to 47 years in prison. After working seven months as a teacher at a Wee Care Day Nursery, her troubles began on April 30, 1985 when when a four-year-old boy who was a student of hers said, when a nurse put a thermometer in his rectum, “That's what my teacher does to me at nap time at school.” When asked what he meant, the boy replied, “Her takes my temperature.” That one comment led to a criminal investigation and Michaels being charged with 131 counts of sexual abuse against 20 children.

During Michaels' trial, the judge questioned the children in his chambers while the jury watched on closed circuit TV. He played ball with them and held them on his lap; sometimes he whispered in their ears and asked them to whisper answers back to him. The children alleged Michaels raped and assaulted them with knives, spoons, and Lego blocks. They also contended she licked peanut butter off of the their genitals, played a piano in the nude, and made them drink her urine. All of this abuse allegedly occurred over the many months Michaels worked at Wee Care and went unnoticed by other teachers, parents, or administrators.

Michaels' conviction was overturned on appeal in 1993. The appeal judges singled out one witness's testimony as being inappropriate, because she was used to tell the jury to believe the children, when it was the jury's job to decide which witnesses to believe. The judges were also critical about the initial interviews of the children, describing them as coercive, highly suggestive, and inept. Michaels was subsequently freed on bail, and after a year and a half prosecutors dropped charges against her.  (Famous Trials) (Crime Magazine) (State v. Michaels)  [4/10]

Essex County, NJ 

John Dixon

Dec 23, 1990

After being identified by a victim of kidnapping, rape, and robbery, John Dixon pleaded guilty to the crime out of fear of a harsher sentence if convicted by a jury. He later asked a judge to withdraw his plea and perform DNA testing. Dixon's appeals were unsuccessful at first, but eventually DNA testing was done and Dixon was exonerated after serving 10 years of 45-year sentence.  (IP) (TruthInJustice)  [5/05]

Hudson County, NJ 

James Landano

Aug 13, 1976

Vincent James Landano was convicted of the murder of Police Officer John Snow. On Aug. 13, 1976, two gunmen robbed the Hi-Way Check Cashing Service in Kearny. One went inside, while the other waited in a getaway car. As the robbery was in progress, John Snow, a Newark police officer, arrived in his patrol car with an attaché case containing $46,000 to be delivered to the business. Before Snow could get out of his car, the outside gunman walked up to the patrol car and shot Snow at point-blank range. The gunman then took the attaché case and got into his car, while the the other gunman left the check-cashing service with a cash drawer containing about $6,000. This gunman put the drawer on the roof of the car and jumped into the back seat. The car sped away leaving $6,000 fluttering in the air behind it.

A man arrested for the crime, Allen Rollo, admitted being the inside gunman, and identified Landano as his partner, the one who shot Snow. Centurion Ministries discovered a hidden police report in which the only eyewitness to the murder identified another man as the shooter. When the case was retried, the jury deliberated for less than an hour and acquitted Landano in 1989. Jurors later celebrated with him at a victory party.  (NY Times) (CM)  [4/08]

Hunterdon County, NJ 

John Edward Schuyler

Jan 19, 1907 (Califon)

John Edward Schuyler was convicted of the murder of Manning Riley and sentenced to death. The conviction was based entirely on circumstantial evidence. Schuyler was pardoned in 1914 after another man, Frank Bird, confessed to the crime.  (MOJ) (Democrat-Advisor)  [7/07]

Mercer County, NJ 

Trenton Six

Jan 27, 1948 (Trenton)

Ralph Cooper, 24, Collis English, 23, McKinlay Forrest, 35, John McKenzie, 24, James Thorpe, 34, and Horace Wilson, 37, all blacks, were convicted by an all white jury of the murder of William Horner, an elderly white shopkeeper. All were sentenced to death. Horner died after being hit on the head with a soda bottle. Horner's wife, could not agree on how many men were actually involved with the attack, only that it was two to four light-skinned blacks in their teens.

Five of the six arrested signed inconsistent confessions, which were obtained by police coercion. All six had solid alibis and repudiated the confessions. The police refused to say whose fingerprints they found on the bottle. Some of the defendants were represented by NAACP attorneys, one of who was Thurgood Marshall, who later became a U.S. Supreme Court justice. During appeals of the convictions, trumped-up evidence was revealed and the Trenton medical examiner was found guilty of perjury. During a third trial in 1951, after an intervening mistrial, all defendants except English and Cooper were acquitted. The convictions of the latter two were overturned in 1952, and they were never retried. The Communist Daily Worker called the Trenton Six proceedings, “a northern Scottsboro case.”  (ISI)

Middlesex County, NJ 

Shephard & Lester

Convicted 1935 & 1936

Clifford Shephard and C. Elizabeth Lester were both convicted twice of forgery after being identified as passers of bad checks. Shephard was arrested a third time for forgery, but the grand jury refused to indict, because he had been behind bars at the time of the crime. Shephard was pardoned in 1950 and Lester was pardoned in 1951 after the actual culprits confessed. Shephard was later awarded $15,000 for 27 months of wrongful imprisonment.  (The Innocents) (Time)

Middlesex County, NJ 

Nathaniel Harvey

June 16, 1985 (Plainsboro)

Nathaniel Harvey was convicted of murdering Irene Schnaps, 37, and was sentenced to death. Harvey suffered from a flawed investigation, contaminated evidence, false testimony, and attorney error. An alternate suspect, who knew the victim and had been romantically rejected by her, had decisively failed a polygraph. The brutality of murder suggests the perpetrator, unlike Harvey, knew the victim. In addition, Harvey was a burglar and would not likely have left valuables behind at the murder scene. In 2007 New Jersey abolished the death penalty and Harvey's death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole.  (NY Times)  [7/05]

Middlesex County, NJ

McKinley Cromedy

Aug 28, 1992

McKinley Cromedy was convicted of raping and robbing a 20-year-old Rutgers University student. The crime occurred in the victim's New Brunswick apartment. The victim viewed a photographic array that included Cromedy a few days after the rape but did not pick him out. Seven months later, while walking in New Brunswick, she saw Cromedy carrying a boom box and called police to report him as the rapist. None of the forensic evidence found on the victim matched Cromedy. DNA tests exonerated him after he served 5 years of a 60-year sentence.  (IP)  [5/05]

Monmouth County, NJ 

George Parker

Mar 26, 1980 (Howell Twp)

George Parker was convicted of aggravated manslaughter for the shooting death of Donna Lynn Smith, 25. Smith's body was found in Allaire State Park in Howell Township. Smith had gone to the park with Parker, Pamela Pope, Carol Hancock, and James Covington. Hancock was Pope's sister, while Covington was Parker's brother. According to an appellate court, Pope, then age 29, believed that Smith had broken her nephew's arm and she wanted Parker to beat Smith. However, Pope took Parker's gun and shot Smith twice, killing her.

Parker at first confessed to the crime, but he recanted it at trial saying he confessed because he loved Pope's two children and thought Pope was pregnant with his child. Pope and Hancock denied being at park at the time of the shooting. Covington did not witness the shooting because he was asleep in the car at the time. Parker was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Pope was later convicted of Smith's murder as well as committing perjury at Parker's trial. Hancock was also convicted of perjury. Parker's conviction was overturned in 1986 and he was freed on bail. It is doubtful that he will be retried as the state essentially conceded that his confession was false.  (NY Times) (MOJ)  [7/09]

Monmouth County, NJ 

Damaso Vega

July 30, 1980 (Long Branch)

Damaso Vega was convicted of murdering Maria Rodriguez, the 16-year-old daughter of his best friend. Rodriguez was strangled with a belt and her body was found in her Long Branch apartment by her live-in boyfriend. Two of the witnesses against Vega were his friends. One was best man at Vega's wedding. In 1989, both of these witnesses recanted their testimony and said they had lied under pressure from a detective. Vega was freed in Nov. 1989 after a Superior Court judge ruled that the primary witnesses against him had lied at his trial. All three had recanted at an earlier post-conviction evidentiary hearing. The judge also apologized to Vega for his false imprisonment.  (CM) (NY Times)  [7/05]

Passaic County, NJ 

Rubin Carter

June 17, 1966 (Paterson)

Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a contender for middleweight boxing title of the world, was convicted of a triple homicide. His acquaintance, John Artis, was also convicted. In 1974, while in jail, Carter published a book entitled The Sixteenth Round, From No. 1 Contender to #45472. The book was discovered by Bob Dylan, who made Carter a folk hero with the release of the song “Hurricane” and led to a public outcry that was largely responsible for his retrial in 1976. Carter was also supported by Coretta Scott King, Muhammad Ali, Joan Baez, and Bobby Seale as well as by some journalists and lawyers.

In a climate of racial tension, Carter was alleged to have killed white people to avenge the death of a black man who had been killed by a white man that same night in Paterson, NJ. The triple homicide occurred at Bob's Lafayette Grill at 18th and Lafayette Sts. Against evidence, Carter was reconvicted in 1976, in part because a first trial witness, who recanted his testimony, recanted his recantation and testified again. Later Carter's conviction was overturned because Judge H. Lee Sarokin declared that both of Carter's two previous convictions had been based on “racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” Carter was freed in 1985, but it took another three years for charges to be completely dismissed. His co-defendant, John Artis, was paroled in 1981. Carter later headed a Toronto-based lobbying group, AIDWYC, the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.  (JD) (Carter v. Rafferty)  [6/05]

 Union County, NJ

James Sweeney

Oct 14, 1926

James Sweeney was convicted of the murder of John Ens, a postal truck driver. The crime occurred during a robbery of $151,300 from Ens's mail truck at Sixth St. and Elizabeth Ave. in Elizabeth on Oct. 14, 1926. Sweeney was convicted because of eyewitness error and a false prosecution informant. He was cleared in 1928 after the actual robbers were discovered.  (CTI)

Union County, NJ 

George Merritt

July 16, 1967 (Plainfield)

In the midst of a five-day race riot, a white Plainfield patrolman, John V. Gleason, Jr., 39, shot and wounded a black youth who allegedly had attacked him with a hammer. He was surrounded by an angry mob of blacks and was beaten, stomped, and shot to death with his own service revolver. Of 12 defendants put on trial, two were convicted including George Merritt. The case against Merritt rested solely on the testimony of one witness, Donald Frazier. Frazier testified that Merritt assaulted Gleason with a meat cleaver, but the wounds on Gleason were not indicative that such a weapon was used on him, nor was this weapon found. Merritt's conviction was reversed in 1972 and 1976, but he was reconvicted after each reversal. Following Merritt's third conviction, a pretrial police interview with Frazier surfaced that was completely at odds with his trial testimony. The prosecutor had withheld this document from Merritt's defense. Because of this document, Merritt's conviction was again reversed in 1980, but this time charges against him were dropped.  (NY Times) (72) (80) (MOJ)  [7/09]

Union County, NJ 

Nathaniel Walker

Oct 19, 1974

Nathaniel Walker was convicted of kidnapping, rape and sodomy. He was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 50 years. The victim was accosted after she parked her car near her home in Elizabeth, NJ and was forced to drive to the parking lot of a housing project in Newark where she was assaulted. Four months later she picked Walker out of a police lineup. The victim had told police her assailant was in his mid-20s and did not wear glasses. Walker, however, was 33 and had worn glasses with thick lenses for many years. In 1986 Centurion Ministries convinced prosecutors to re-examine a semen sample taken from the victim 12 years earlier. Tests on the sample revealed the presence of B antigens indicating the assailant or the victim had blood type B or AB. Since the victim had blood type A, the antigens had to have come from the assailant. Since Walker also had blood type A, he could not be the assailant. Following the tests Walker's conviction was overturned and he was freed from imprisonment.  (NY Times) (CM)  [7/09]

Union County, NJ 

David Shephard

Dec 24, 1983

David Shephard was convicted of rape and robbery in 1984. The victim was abducted by two men from a shopping mall and later raped. One of the assailants called the other “Dave.” The assailants subsequently parked the victim's car near a building at Newark Airport in which Shephard worked. The victim identified Shephard as one of her assailants. DNA tests exonerated him in 1994.  (IP) (ABA) (CBJ)  [6/08]

Union County, NJ 

Byron Halsey

Nov 14, 1985 (Plainfield)

Byron Halsey was convicted of sexually assaulting and murdering Tyrone and Tina Urquhart. Halsey had confessed to the crime after 30 hours of interrogation. The victims were the children of his girlfriend, with whom Halsey lived in a Plainfield rooming house. Tyrone, 8, had evidence of being sexually assaulted and had four nails driven into his head with a brick. Tina, 7, had been raped and strangled. Halsey's conviction was overturned in 2007 after an advanced DNA test showed that a neighbor, Cliff Hall, may have been responsible for the crimes.  The neighbor, now in prison for three unrelated sex crimes, had testified against Halsey at his trial. Halsey's lawyers said they are confident the charges will be dropped. The victims' mother, Margaret Urquhart, said she knew Halsey loved her children and always doubted that he committed the crime.  (AP News)  [6/07]