Victims of the State


Oscar Slater

Dec 21, 1908 (Glasgow)

Oscar Slater was sentenced to death for the murder of Marion Gilchrist, an 82-year-old wealthy spinster. Gilchrist was found bludgeoned to death in her Glasgow home. Three witnesses saw a man exit Gilchrist's home and walk quickly by them immediately before one of them found her murdered body. The only thing missing from Gilchrist's home was her diamond brooch.

Police soon got a tip from a man who said Slater had tried to sell him a pawn ticket for a diamond brooch. They also found that Slater had a checkered past. While he had no criminal record, he used assumed names to escape from creditors. When police went to look for Slater they found that he and his mistress had left Glasgow by train, bound for Liverpool, where on Dec. 26, the couple sailed on the Lusitania, under an assumed name, bound for New York. Police were sure that Slater was Gilchrist's murderer because not only did he pawn a diamond brooch, but he exhibited evidence of guilt by secretly fleeing to the United States.
Read More by Clicking Here

Los Angeles County, CA

Sleepy Lagoon 22

Aug 2, 1942

On Aug. 2, 1942, a teenager named Jose Diaz was found murdered near the Sleepy Lagoon reservoir in southeast Los Angeles. The reservoir was frequented by Chicanos (Mexican Americans) who were excluded from public pools. As a result of apparent prejudice and press hysteria, police arrested 600 Latinos in connection with the murders. Twenty-two Latinos (mostly Chicanos) were indicted for the murders and tried before an all white jury. The defendants were not allowed to sit near or speak with their attorneys during trial.

Three of the defendants were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison; nine were convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to five years-to-life, five were convicted of assault and released for time served, and five were acquitted. In Oct. 1944, the Court of Appeal of the State of California unanimously reversed the convictions, finding that there was no evidence linking the defendants with the crime.  (Wiki) (Archives)  [4/08]

Allegheny County, PA

Steven Slutzker

Dec 28, 1975 (Wilkinsburg)

Steven Slutzker was convicted of the murder of twenty-nine-year-old John Mudd. Slutzker was a suspect in the murder because he had had an affair with Mudd's wife, Arlene. However, Slutzker had a clear alibi that put him miles away from the killing. Slutzker was in McKeesport with alibi witnesses, his van there was covered with newly fallen snow, and there were no foot tracks near the van or near his home across the street from the murder scene. At the time of the murder, the victim's son, John Mudd, Jr, was five years old. In 1990, 15 years later, Mudd, Jr. claimed he had a flashback episode in which repressed memories of the murder flooded his mind. In the flashback he identified Slutzker as the killer. In 1992, a prosecutor used Mudd Jr.'s testimony and some questionable eyewitness testimony to convict Slutzker of the murder.
Read More by Clicking Here

Hennepin County, MN 

George B. Slyter

Mar 18, 1931 (Minneapolis)

George B. Slyter was convicted of robbery due to eyewitness identification. During the early morning hours of Mar. 18, 1931 two intruders entered the garage of Nelson Brothers at 500 S. 11th St. South in Minneapolis, and at gunpoint forced the night man, Aaron Oxendale, to open the cash register. The robbery netted about $50.

Several days later, Oxendale saw a man who he thought was one of the assailants pass the garage. He called police, who watched for the man's return. Slyter was arrested after he again passed the garage. Oxendale identified him with certainty. Slyter said he had been at a St. Patrick's Day party with his mother and sister. His sister and another guest gave different versions of the party and of the personnel present, though they said Slyter was there. The jury deliberated on the verdict for several hours before convicting him. Because Slyter had a previous conviction for attempted robbery, he was scheduled to be sentenced to 10 to 80 years in prison for the $50 robbery. But sentencing was deferred for four days.

On the day of sentencing, the state asked that Slyter's conviction be stricken from the record and that he be freed due to new developments in the case. The night previous, Oxendale and one of the Nelson brothers had been in the garage when it was again robbed by the same assailant that Oxendale had identified as Slyter. The judge granted the state's motion and Slyter was freed.  (CTI)  [1/09]

Cumberland County, PA

Letitia Smallwood

Aug 29, 1972 (Carlisle)

Letitia Denise Smallwood was convicted of the arson murders of two people who died in an apartment building fire. The fire occurred at 11 North Pitt St. in Carlisle during the early morning hours of Aug. 29, 1972. The decedents, Paula Wagner and Steven Johnson were residents of the building. Wagner died of injuries received when jumping from the building. Johnson, unable to escape the flames, died from extensive burns. A second floor witness and a third floor witness to the fire described the fire differently. The third floor witness saw the fire at about 2:35 a.m. The second floor witness reported seeing the fire at “2:20 or 3:20.” The prosecutor coaxed this witness to agree that he could have seen the fire at 20 minutes to 3. Since the witnesses apparently saw two different fires at about the same time, the prosecutor then argued that the fire must have been arson because it must have had two separate points of origin. Smallwood was convicted by weak circumstantial evidence backed by the belief that the fire was an unquestionable case of arson.  (TruthInJustice)

 Dallas County, TX

Billy James Smith

Aug 7, 1986

Billy James Smith was convicted of aggravated sexual assault while using and exhibiting a deadly weapon in 1987. His conviction was based in part on an identification made by the victim's boyfriend, who did not witness the attack. Smith's sister testified at trial, corroborating his alibi. Smith was sentenced to life in prison. DNA tests eventually exonerated Smith and he was released in 2006.  (IP)  [1/07]

Allen County, IN 

Charles Smith

Dec 10, 1982

Charles “Red” Smith was sentenced to death for the robbery and murder of 20-year-old Carmen Zink. Zink was shot to death during a purse snatching in the parking lot of the Elegant Farmer Restaurant. The admitted getaway driver testified against Smith claiming Smith committed the murder. Smith had a solid alibi, but the trial judge would not permit him to introduce it at trial because his incompetent counsel had failed to file the necessary pre-trial alibi notice. Because of Smith's counsel, an appeals court granted him a new trial. In preparation for the new trial, evidence emerged that the prosecution's witness had been testifying in return for a deal which allowed him to avoid murder charges. At retrial, the defense presented Smith's alibi and also strong evidence implicating a relative of the prosecution's witness as the true killer. The retrial jury acquitted Smith of all charges.  [7/05]

Henry County, IN 

Smith & Jacobs

Feb 14, 1991

Christopher Smith and Ralph Jacobs, Jr., were convicted of murdering Wesley Crandall, Jr., a New Castle, Indiana drug dealer. Both defendants were mentally handicapped adults who had confessed to the crime under police interrogation and had pleaded guilty. Smith was sentenced to 38 years in prison for murder while Jacobs was sentenced to eight years for aiding. The two were freed after another man, Jerry Thompson, was physically linked to the crime and was arrested. Thompson was subsequently convicted of the murder.  (News Article) (Thompson v. State)  [12/10]

Clarence Smith - See Albuquerque Four

David Charles Smith - See Quincy Five

Broward County, FL 

Frank Lee Smith

Apr 14, 1985

Frank Lee Smith was sentenced to death for the rape and murder of Shandra Whitehead, an 8-year-old girl. The victim had been strangled with her pajama bottoms in her home at 2970 NW Eighth Place in Fort Lauderdale. An eyewitness, Chiquita Lowe, identified Smith in court. Gov. Bob Martinez signed Smith's death warrant on Oct. 16, 1989, but less than a month before Smith's scheduled execution, the eyewitness recanted. She testified she wrongly identified Smith after police pressured her, telling her Smith was dangerous. A week before Smith was to die, the Florida Supreme Court stayed the execution. However, a judge turned down Smith's request for a new trial after prosecutors depicted Lowe as a liar. In 2000, 11 months after Smith died in prison, DNA test results exonerated him and identified Eddie Lee Mosley as the true perpetrator. Smith's case was featured on Frontline.  (IP) (CWC) (FLCC)  [6/05]

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.
Read More by Clicking Here

Philadelphia County, PA

Joseph Smith

Feb 17, 1950

Joseph Smith was convicted of the armed robbery of a Philadelphia check-cashing service. The check-cashing attendant, John Mitchell, was robbed of $800. Police later arrested George Clark and Joseph Farro for the crime. Under police pressure Clark named Smith as an alleged lookout man for the crime. Clark testified against Smith while Farro remained silent. Smith was freed from imprisonment in July 1963 after both Clark and Farro admitted that Smith did not participate in the crime.  (The Innocents)  [7/09]

Lorain County, OH 

Smith & Allen


Nancy Smith and Joseph Allen were convicted of child abuse. Smith, a Head Start school bus driver allegedly drove students to Allen's house where the students were molested. Smith, a white woman, and Allen, a dark complexioned black, were an unlikely pair and denied ever having met each other. The two were convicted on the testimony of child witnesses whose testimony changed over time, and on the testimony of adults who were facing unrelated criminal charges. School attendance and bus records show the crimes to be impossible. Smith was sentenced to 30 to 90 years in prison and ordered to pay the costs of prosecution. Allen was sentenced to five consecutive life terms. No physical evidence existed that any child was molested.  (Crime Magazine) (JD)  [2/07]

 Cook County, IL

Steven Smith

June 30, 1985

Steven Smith was sentenced to death for the murder of Virdeen Willis Jr., who was shot outside a tavern. Willis was an assistant warden at the Pontiac Correctional Center where Smith had once been incarcerated. Smith was convicted due to the testimony of Debrah Caraway, which was dubious for several reasons. First, Caraway had been smoking crack cocaine. Second, she claimed Willis was alone when the killer stepped out of shadows and fired the fatal shot, but two other witnesses said they were standing beside Willis when he was murdered. Third, Caraway's boyfriend, Pervis (Pepper) Bell, was an alternative suspect in the murder. Finally, Caraway, according to her account, was across the street when the crime occurred and, while she positively identified Smith, the two persons who were standing beside Willis were within only two or three feet of the killer and could not identify Smith.

In 1999, the Illinois Supreme Court threw out the conviction due to insufficient evidence and it barred a retrial. It ruled that Caraway's testimony was less reliable than the contradictory testimony of the other witnesses. Leonard Cavise, a DePaul University law professor, said he believes the state's evidence in the case was so weak that the prosecution should not have even brought charges against Smith, much less pursued the death penalty.  (CWC)  [1/06]

Brunswick County, NC 

Sylvester Smith

Mar 1984

Sylvester Smith was convicted of raping Gloria Ogundeji and Janell Smith, ages four and five. The victims were the daughter and niece of the woman with whom Smith had been staying. The conviction was based on the testimony of the girls. In 2004, the girls came forward and revealed that their grandmother, Fannie Mae Davis, had pressured them into accusing Smith in order to protect the actual perpetrator, their 9-year-old cousin. Smith was released, but in 2005, Gov. Mike Easley had the opportunity to pardon Smith, but refused to. In 1984, he was the District Attorney who prosecuted Smith, and apparently, it is hard for him to admit that he made a mistake.

Kenton County, KY 

Timothy Smith

Charged 2000 (Covington)

Timothy Smith was convicted of sodomy after his teenage daughter, Katie, claimed repressed memories of abuse. His other daughters had denied such abuse. In 2006, his conviction was overturned because of failure of his counsel to challenge the prosecution expert who backed up Katie's story. The expert had obtained a doctorate in an unaccredited online school. Katie Smith died in 2005 after attacking Sarah Brady, who was 9-months pregnant, with a knife. Brady managed to grab the knife and turned it on Smith. Police concluded Brady acted in self-defense.  (AP News)  [9/06]

Franklin County, OH

Walter D. Smith

1984 - 85 (Columbus)

Walter D. Smith was convicted of sexually assaulting three women. He was sentenced to 78 to 190 years of imprisonment. DNA tests exonerated him in 1996. Smith was awarded nearly $250,000 in 2001 for his wrongful imprisonment.  (IP) (  [5/05]

Lee County, NC 

Steve Snipes

Feb 13, 1998

Steve E. Snipes was convicted of the armed robbery of Thomas Superette, a convenience store near Sanford. After the robbery, two of the store clerks identified the robber as Steve Snipes, a neighborhood man and regular customer of the store. The robber wore a ski mask, and the clerks were not even sure of his race. They said the robber sounded like Snipes would have sounded if he had tried to change his voice. They also said the robber's clothing looked like clothes Snipes sometimes wore.

Police arrested Snipes shortly afterwards. They did not recover the stolen bank bag, money, weapon, or a jacket like the one the robber was wearing 15 minutes earlier. Snipes also had an alibi. However the clerks' testimony was sufficient to convict. Snipes' trial attorney, Andre Barrett, was subsequently disbarred after allegations of misappropriating $800,000 in client funds. The trial prosecutor, Bill Huggins, was accused of trying to get his girlfriend to kill his wife. A plea bargain sent him to prison for obstruction of justice and embezzlement.

Since Snipes' imprisonment, a witness had come forward who testified that another man, Terrance Wyatt, was the robber. Wyatt was caught committing an identical robbery while Snipes was in prison. In 2007, after Snipes served over 5 years of imprisonment, NC Governor Easley pardoned him.  (News & Observer) (AP)  [4/08]

Alexandria, VA 

Walter Snyder

Oct 28, 1985

Walter Tyrone Snyder was convicted of rape. The victim had originally eliminated Snyder as a suspect but later made an identification after encouragement by investigator Barry Shiftic. Snyder spent seven years in prison before being exonerated by DNA evidence, pardoned, and released. Snyder's story is featured in the book Actual Innocence as an example of the fallibility of sincerely believed victim ID and of the process that leads to it.  (IP) (CBJ)  [5/05]

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.
Read More by Clicking Here

 San Diego County, CA

Cynthia Sommer

Feb 18, 2002

Cynthia Sommer was convicted of murdering her husband, 23-year-old Todd Sommer. She was alleged to have poisoned him with arsenic. Todd was a U.S. Marine Corps sergeant and died in February 2002 after collapsing at the couple's apartment at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. A pathologist first suggested that Todd's death was due to a heart attack. Months later, an examination of Todd's organs found large amounts of arsenic in his liver and kidneys. At trial in Jan. 2007 there was a lack of evidence that Cynthia bought any arsenic or poisoned Todd. Since the science of arsenic poisoning was fuzzy, defense experts were prepared to argue that Todd died of the effects of the now-banned weight loss pill Ephedra, or a prescription drug taken for diarrhea, or a rare, undiagnosed condition.

Cynthia's mother testified that, in the days after Todd's death, Cynthia curled into a fetal position on her bed and wept. Cynthia got a tattoo with her husband's name, birth date, date of death and the Latin words Semper Fidelis, or “always faithful,” the Marine Corps motto.

However, prosecution rebuttal witnesses testified that Cynthia used her husband's life insurance money to have her breasts enlarged, have sex with three Marines, hold raucous parties, and perform in a thong and wet T-shirt contest at a Tijuana bar, flashing her breasts.

In Dec. 2007, Cynthia's conviction was overturned due to ineffective assistance of counsel. After the prosecution performed new tests on tissue samples taken from Todd's body, experts could find no evidence of arsenic. Because of the new evidence, the prosecution dropped charges against Cynthia in April 2008 and she was released from prison. She had been imprisoned for more than two years.  ( (L.A. Times)  [8/09]

 Manitoba, Canada

Thomas Sophonow

Dec 23, 1981 (Winnipeg)

Thomas Sophonow was convicted of murdering 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel. Stoppel was working at the Ideal Donut Shop when twine was placed around her neck and she was strangled. Sophonow's first trial resulted in a mistrial, but he was convicted at his second and third trials. However, the Manitoba Court of Appeal acquitted him in 1985. In June 2000, the Winnipeg Police announced that Sophonow was not responsible for the murder and that another suspect had been identified. In 2003, Sophonow was awarded $2.6 million in compensation.  (R. v. Sophonow) (Inquiry Report) (FJDB)  [1/07]

Clark County, WA 

Ross Sorrels

Convicted 1995

Ross Sorrels was convicted of raping a five-year-old girl. His 1995 trial attracted wide publicity because he was the former director of a group for troubled teenagers, America For Youth Foundation. The actual rapist was convicted in 2002 of raping both the five-year old and her two sisters while living with the girl's mother.  (Seattle Times)  [10/05]

Multnomah County, OR

Sosnovske & Pavilac

Jan 21, 1990

John Sosnovske and Laverne Pavilac were convicted of the murder of Taunja Bennett. Bennett's body was found off the old Columbia Gorge Scenic Highway. Pavilac confessed that she and her boyfriend, Sosnovske, strangled Bennett and disposed of her body. Pavilac later retracted her confession, claiming she made it to escape an abusive relationship with Sosnovske. Pavilac was convicted, and following the conviction Sosnovske pleaded no contest to the murder. Later the “Happy Face Killer,” Keith Hunter Jesperson, confessed to the murder and gave details that only the actual murderer would know. After Jesperson was convicted, a judge ordered Sosnovske's and Pavilac's release in 1995, stating, “There's no longer any doubt that these two individuals are innocent. The evidence is compelling.”  [10/05]

Martin Soto-Fong - See El Grande Innocents

Stanislaus County, CA

George Souliotes

Jan 15, 1997 (Modesto)

George Souliotes was convicted of arson and triple homicide stemming from a 3 a.m. fire at 1319 Ronald Ave. in Modesto that killed his tenant, Michelle Jones, 30, and her two children, Daniel Jr., 6, and Amanda, 3. At the time of the fire, Souliotes was trying to evict the Jones family from the house. Investigators claimed that Souliotes set the fire to collect insurance money. Investigators also claimed that medium petroleum distillates, a class of sometimes-flammable substances, were found on both Souliotes's shoes and a carpet in the home. At trial many defenses witnesses testified that Souliotes had no financial motive to set the fire. The defense also presented its own arson expert who testified that the fire could have been an accident, possibly caused by a faulty stove. The trial ended in a hung jury.

At the second trial, in 1999, Souliotes was represented by the same trial attorney. The prosecution presented the same witnesses, but this time the defense counsel presented no witnesses at all.  Souliotes was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Since his second trial, arson investigators have reanalyzed the evidence, and found that the medium petroleum distillate found on Souliotes's shoes is not the same substance that was found at the scene.  (IP Arson)  [12/07]

Joseph Nick Sousa - See DC Three

Newaygo County, MI 

Larry Souter

Aug 25, 1979

Larry Pat Souter was convicted in 1992 of the 1979 murder of 19-year-old Kristy Ringler. One evening, Souter had met Ringler at a bar and became friendly with her. When the bar closed at 2:20 a.m., the two left with several others to continue the party at the home of Anna Mae Carpenter, which is located off of M37 (State Route 37). While everyone else was inside, Souter and Ringler went out into the front yard of the house and became amorous. At some point Ringler decided to go home, walking northbound along M37. Souter followed her for 20 to 25 feet, trying to persuade her to come back and get a ride, but he soon abandoned his efforts and returned to the party.
Read More by Clicking Here

Cass County, TX 

Southerland & Mathis

June 6, 1934 (Atlanta)

I. L. Southerland and Ovid Mathis were convicted of of robbing the First National Bank of Atlanta, TX. Their convictions were based on erroneous eyewitness identification. It later became known that the robbery was committed by Charlie Chaplin, Texas' most notorious bank robber, and an accomplice, Luther Bone. Southerland and Mathis were paroled in 1938 and after the next gubernatorial election Gov. O'Daniels pardoned both men as one of his first official acts.  (Not Guilty)  [7/05]

Middlesex County, MA 

Ray & Shirley Souza

Tried in 1993 (Lowell)

The adult daughter of Ray and Shirley Souza went to counseling and was encouraged to read The Courage to Heal, a book about recovering memories of incest. The book apparently teaches that if you are unhappy or have problems coping with life, it must be because your parents sexually abused you as a child even if you do not remember any abuse. To heal yourself, you have to recover the memories of such abuse. This daughter read the book and recovered alleged memories of abuse that occurred when she was a child. She then spread the gospel of recovered memories to her siblings, some of whom were using their parents, Ray and Shirley, to baby-sit their children. Subsequently, the siblings “recovered” memories of abuse and questioned their children repeatedly until the children remembered being abused. Ray and Shirley were charged and opted for a judicial trial rather than a jury trial. Judge Elizabeth Dolan, who presided over the Fells Acres abuse case, heard the case. She convicted the Souzas and sentenced them to 9 to 15 years in prison. Eventually the Souzas were allowed to serve 9 years under house arrest. Author Mark Pendergrast profiled them in the 1996 book Victims of Memory.  (Justice: Denied)  [11/05]