Victims of the State

Essex County, MA

Cornelius Usher


Cornelius Usher was convicted of burglary after he was found pawning tools that were stolen from the Leonard shoe company. Usher was pardoned in 1904 and awarded $1,000 by the state legislature in 1905.  (CIPM) (CTI)  [11/05]

 Los Angeles County, CA

David Valdez, Jr. & Sr.

Dec 2, 1993

Tito David Valdez, Jr. and his father, Tito David Valdez, Sr., were convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and solicitation to commit murder. Valdez Jr. produced a Norwalk cable TV show called Hollywood Haze featuring a freewheeling mixture of music videos and interviews with partying teen-agers and rap musicians. Most footage focused on teen-age girls dancing at underground parties and nightclubs.

Valdez had hired a 13-year-old Pico Rivera girl who said she was 16. She said Valdez had brought her to his Downey home and raped her in his room while his father and brother watched television downstairs. After the girl brought rape charges against Valdez, he and his father allegedly conspired to kill her. They allegedly solicited someone to murder her. Evidence has surfaced that the wiretapped tape conversation played to the jury was an edited, altered version. Secondly, the jury was never told that the star witness for the prosecution, was a paid FBI informant and had a prior criminal record.  (Valdez's Story) (Archives)  [4/08]


Valero & Sánchez

Aug 21, 1910

On Aug. 21, 1910, in the small town of Osa de la Vega, in the province of Cuenca, José María Grimaldos, known as “Shorty,” was seen for the last time. He was on a road to the nearby village of Tresjuncos. His family feared foul play and reported his disappearance to the Civil Guard (police). During the investigation the family and others expressed their suspicions that two shepherds, Gregorio Valero and León Sánchez had killed him for his money. This investigation was closed in Sept. 1911 without any indictments.

In 1913 a new judge by the name of Isasa arrived. Influenced by the local boss and right-wing politician, the judge reopened the case. The two suspects were arrested by the Civil Guard and, under torture, they confessed they killed Grimaldos, cut his body up, and fed it to pigs. The “fiscal” (DA) asked for the death penalty. The case took its time in the court system, but on May 25, 1918 a popular jury convicted the defendants of murder. They both were sentenced to 18 years in prison. Both were released on account of a general pardon on Feb. 20, 1924 after serving eleven years of imprisonment.

Two years later, the priest of Tresjuncos received a letter from the pastor of Mira, a town about 100 miles distant, requesting the birth certificate of Grimaldos so that the same could marry. The priest had been one of the strongest supporters of the guilt of Valero and Sánchez and decided not to respond. Time passes and Grimaldos, impatient at the lack of a response, traveled to Tresjuncos and marched straight into the village. Grimaldos' presence in the village caused a sensation. Some thought they were seeing a ghost and the local judge had him arrested. However, it became apparent that Grimaldos was who he appeared to be.

With much legal difficulty, the case against Valero and Sanchez was reopened and, after much delay, their convictions were overturned. In 1979, a movie entitled El crimen de Cuenca (The Crime of Cuenca) was made based on the case. The movie was initially banned in Spain because the torture scenes in it are depicted in great detail and crudity. However, in 1981, the movie was allowed to be shown in Spain and became a box office success.  (ECDC) (PE) (EC) (Wiki) (PM)  [11/07]

Davis County, UT 

David Valken-Leduc

Oct 29, 1996 (Woods Cross)

David Jonathan Valken-Leduc was convicted in 2004 of the murder of Matthew John Whicker, a Motel 6 night clerk. Whicker, 30, was shot multiple times and died in the motel lobby. In 1996, police arrested Todd Jeremy Rettenberger in regard to the shooting. Although Rettenberger knew Valken-Leduc, for five years he never mentioned Valken-Leduc's involvement in the crime. In 2001, Scott Spjut, a Certified Latent Print Examiner, identified a bloody fingerprint found at the scene as belonging to Valken-Leduc. Rettenberger then implicated Valken-Leduc in the crime. In 2003, Spjut was shot and killed by a rifle he was inspecting at a crime lab. The bloody fingerprint was then re-examined and found to belong to Whicker rather than to Valken-Leduc.

Rettenberger, who has twice pleaded guilty to manslaughter in Whicker's death, agreed to testify against Valken-Leduc in exchange for his immediate release from jail after spending 63 months there. At trial Rettenberger testified that he drove Valken-Leduc, then 17, and another man, Elliot Rashad Harper, to the Motel 6 with plans to rob it. Rettenberger stood outside and watched Valken-Leduc and Harper confront Whicker inside. Something then went wrong, resulting in a scuffle and then gunshots. He named Valken-Leduc as the triggerman. Valken-Leduc testified that he had once had a loose friendship with Rettenberger, but that he cut contact after Rettenberger let a mutual friend take the blame for something Rettenberger had done.

Following Valken-Leduc's conviction, his defense attorney said that Rettenberger's contradictory confessions should have been introduced to the jury “to impeach his credibility.” He also objected to the prosecution making inconsistent allegations in its trials of Rettenberger and Valken-Leduc, saying he believes such discrepancies in the trials of co-defendants are unconstitutional.

Harper, who also maintained his innocence, was subsequently tried, but his trial resulted in a hung jury. In 2008, he pleaded to lesser charges and was released from custody. Valken-Leduc said he told his mother before she died that he takes some responsibility: “I chose to be acquainted with Todd Rettenberger. That's a mistake I made and I have to live with it.”

On June 16, 2009, Valken-Leduc's conviction was vacated and he was released from custody after entering an Alford plea in which he did not have to admit guilt. He will be on probation for three years.  (Deseret News) (Standard Examiner) (DN #2)  [6/09]

Kings County, NY

John Valletutti

Oct 11, 1945

John Valletutti was sentenced to death for the murder of Pfc. Leo Conlon, a 30-year-old disabled paratrooper who was home on leave. The murder occurred during an attempted robbery of a bar and grill at 5011 Avenue L in Brooklyn. After another man, William Cronholm, was arrested for the crime, he first said he committed the robbery alone, but later said he committed the robbery with two others. Cronholm said he implicated others solely to stop lengthy police questioning. He said he had only recently met his two accomplices. He did not know the name of the getaway driver, and the guy who accompanied him into the bar he only knew as “Johnny.” At his trial Cronholm went back to his original story of committing the robbery alone.

Police investigated Cronholm's background and found out that he knew a John Valletutti, 19, who had once been arrested for car theft. Thirty hours after taking Valletutti into custody, police had their second confession to the crime. Valletutti maintained that he only confessed after he had been brutally assaulted by police. No independent evidence connected Valletutti to the crime. Cronholm testified in Valletutti's defense that he committed the robbery alone. Alibi witnesses testified that Valletti was playing shuffleboard several miles from the scene. After convicting Valletutti, the jury recommended mercy, but the trial judge sentenced him to death. Prosecutor James McGough later said that while the jury was deliberating, he had offered Valletutti the opportunity to plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter, a charge that carried a maximum sentence of 15 years. Valletutti declined the offer, insisting he was innocent.

Valletutti's conviction was reversed by the NY Court of Appeals which found that his confession was of doubtful reliability due to the evidence of the wounds he received while in police custody and to the lack of other evidence implicating him in the crime. Charges against Valletutti were subsequently dropped and he was released from imprisonment in 1948.  (News Articles) (The Innocents)  [7/09]

 Australia (SA)

Frits Van Beelen

July 15, 1971

Frits Van Beelen was convicted of the murder of 15-year-old Deborah Leach. Leach was last seen near her home in Adelaide at 4 p.m. on July 15, 1971. She was crossing a paddock and heading towards the beach. The beach was covered with seagrass that was up to 2 meters (6-7 feet) high. Her partially clothed body was found at 4:20 a.m. the next morning in the seagrass. There were no signs of bruising to her body and a medical examiner ruled that she had been drowned.
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Lubbock County, TX 

Jay Van Story

Convicted 1989

Jay Van Story was convicted of the aggravated sexual harassment of his 7-year-old cousin. He allegedly had lain naked on top of her. Van Story was sentenced to 15 years to life imprisonment. In 2000, the cousin had gotten married and become a Christian. She wrote to Van Story asking for his forgiveness. The real abuser had originally forced her into naming Van Story. When she told the truth to Children's Protective Services, they told her she would never see her mother unless she cooperated in the prosecution of Van Story. Van Story is a prison graphics worker who designed the Texas state license plate and is still imprisoned in 2005.  (JD#1) (JD#2) (II)  [9/05]

Bartolomeo Vanzetti - See Sacco & Vanzetti

Ignacio & Joaquin Varela - See Milwaukee Ave. Innocents

Bexar County, TX 

Anastacio Vargas

Aug 21, 1925

Anastacio Vargas was convicted of murdering Louisa Garcia. Both Louisa and her husband, Gabrial Garcia, were beaten by a pair of robbers on Aug 21, 1925. Louisa died from her injuries ten days later. Gabrial identified Vargas as one of the assailants and testified that Louisa also identified Vargas prior to her death. Vargas had been an employee of the Garcias for some time prior to their assaults. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. An appeals court subsequently overturned Vargas's conviction. On retrial, Vargas was again convicted, but this time he was sentenced to death.

A few hours before Vargas's scheduled execution, a look-alike to Vargas confessed to the crime. Vargas was pardoned and released in 1929. Thirty-five years later, Vargas was awarded $20,000 by the state.  (RCN)  [4/08]

Arlington County, VA 

David Vasquez

Jan 24, 1984

David Vasquez, described as having low intelligence, pleaded guilty to the 1984 murder of Carolyn Hamm. A hair fiber was found at the scene that was consistent with his hair type. A neighbor claimed Vasquez was outside the victim's home the night before the crime. Police taped apparently incriminating conversations with Vasquez after his arrest. DNA tests later linked the crime to a serial killer, Timothy Spencer, and Vasquez was pardoned and released on Jan. 4, 1989. Vasquez was the first convicted person in the world to be exonerated by DNA testing.  (IP) (CBJ)  [6/05]

Kane County, IL 

Jose Vasquez

May 15, 1994

Jose D. Vasquez was convicted of murdering 15-year-old Corey LeSure. The Illinois Appellate Court found that the conviction rested on “false and misleading testimony” by Aurora police officer Marshall Gauer and by Larry Wilkinson, a purported eyewitness, who in reality was an informant working for Gauer. Vasquez was exonerated in 2000 after this frame-up by police was exposed.  (CWC)  [7/05]

 Suffolk County, MA

Peter Vaughn

Jan 6, 1983

Peter C. Vaughn served three years for an armed robbery of a Star Market. Security cameras showed that the same perpetrator robbed the market two months later, when Vaughn was in custody. Nevertheless, the trial court denied a directed verdict of acquittal and the jury found him guilty. The Appeals Court for Suffolk County reversed Vaughn's conviction, and entered a verdict of acquittal. The court found that the “only rational explanation” for the evidence was that “the same person was involved in both robberies” and that Vaughn could not have committed the second one.  (CIPM) (Appeal)  [11/05]

Le Flore County, OK 

Vaught, Stiles, & Bates

Aug 18, 1907

In the fall of 1907, a human skeleton was found in a wooded area, about 3/4 of a mile from the nearest road. The nearest human habitation was the Bates sawmill, about four miles away, near the town of Heavener. Not long before, in August, an employee of the mill named Bud Terry had mysteriously disappeared. Terry was in his early twenties. His aunt, Mrs. Knotts, with whom he lived, had heard nothing from him since his disappearance. Knotts had raised Terry since he was orphaned, and it was Terry's custom to keep her informed whenever he left home for any length of time. There was suspicion that W. L. Bates, the owner of the sawmill, and his employees knew more about the Terry's disappearance than they were willing to admit.
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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]

 Australia (NSW)

Ljube Velevski

June 1994

Ljube Velevski was convicted of murdering his wife, Snezana, his daughter, Zaklina, age 6, and his twin babies, Daniela and Dijana, age 3 months. The throats of all the deceased had been cut. At trial, Velevski's defence argued that Snezana had killed her three children, then herself. The killings occurred in a three bedroom suburban house in Berkeley, Wollongong, New South Wales. Velevski's parents lived with Velevski and his family at the time of the killings.
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 Los Angeles County, CA

Juan Venegas

Dec 25, 1971 (Long Beach)

Juan Francisco Venegas was convicted in of the Christmas morning hammer slaying of 64-year-old William Staga. The murder occurred in Staga's apartment at 1208 Daisy Ave. in Long Beach. Venegas was arrested without probable case, and subsequently police prepared a crime report falsely implicating him in the murder. Venegas's conviction was overturned in Sept. 1974 and charges were never refiled. Venegas was later awarded $1 million because his imprisonment was due in part to false testimony caused by police misconduct.  (ISI) (Archives)  [4/08]

John Vickers - See Kendall & Vickers

Greene County, MO 

Armand Villasana

Sept 16, 1998 (Springfield)

Armand Villasana was convicted of the kidnapping and rape of Judith Ann Lummis. Lummis, who was white, had described her assailant as a Hispanic in his early 20s. She identified Villasana from a photo lineup that contained five white men and himself, the only Hispanic. However, Villasana was 45 years old. Following conviction, DNA tests produced the profile of an unknown male, results which exonerated Villasana in 2000.

In 2005, the unknown DNA profile was matched to a prisoner in the Ozark Correctional Center. When interviewed the prisoner said that he was having an affair with Lummis at the time of her alleged rape, and had sex with her the very night she reported the rape. According to the prisoner, after Lummis's husband questioned why she was late getting home, she made-up her kidnapping and rape story on the spur of the moment so her husband wouldn't find out she was cheating on him.

Investigators were initially unsuccessful at locating Lummis to confirm the story as she was on probation and had skipped reporting. However, a background check revealed that Lummis had made a nearly identical kidnapping report in Aurora, Missouri against another man that was proven to be false prior to his trial. After Lummis was arrested for violating her probation, she confirmed in 2007 that her accusation against Villasana was a hoax. Lummis cannot be prosecuted for perjury as the statute of limitations for it had run out.  (JD) (IP)  [5/08]

Fresno County, CA

Bernard Vindiola

July 22, 1976 (Fowler)

Bernard Vindiola was convicted of the shooting murder of Thomas J. McCoy, a security guard at the Peek-a-Boo Bar in Fowler, CA. At the time of the shooting, Bernard, his brother, Eddie Vindiola, several sisters and some friends were at the bar. Christina Vindiola got into a fight with her sisters, Rosie and Elena, and with Eddie's girlfriend, Martina Rocha. McCoy attempted to intervene and stop the fight. In the process he was shot three times, and later died as a result. After the shooting, Christina Vindiola remained at the bar. She told a number of people that her brother, Eddie, had a gun and had shot the security guard. She would later testify that she made those initial statements because she was angry with Eddie. She stated that she did not know whether Eddie had a gun or had shot the victim.

At Bernard's trial, his defense was that Eddie had shot the victim. Bernard's girlfriend was not involved in the fight or with the security guard, but Eddie's girlfriend was. Only one witness, Vaughn Donabedian, claimed to have seen Bernard shoot McCoy. His testimony was questionable for several reasons: (1) The lighting condition in the bar was dark, and it was crowded with 75 to 85 people. (2) Shortly after the shooting, Donabedian said the assailant was 5 feet 10 inches tall and in his late 20s or early 30s. Eddie was 5 feet 9 inches tall and 28 years old. Bernard, however, was 6 feet 1 inch and 21 years old. (3) Donabedian was positive that the killer had gotten in the back seat of a car just before it drove away. However, there was testimony that Eddie, who was unable to drive, got in the back seat, whereas Bernard was in the front seat driving. (4) The day after the shooting, Donabedian was shown a group of photographs, including Bernard's, but could not identify any of them as the assailant. (5) Donabedian was shown a physical lineup three days later and identified someone other than Bernard as the killer. He later claimed at trial that Bernard had been in that lineup, which was incorrect.

In 1979, a state appeals court overturned Bernard's conviction because the defense was prohibited from introducing Eddie's prior conviction of auto theft to impeach his testimony. The court also cited other reasons and noted in its opinion the weight of evidence was in favor of Bernard. It is not known if Bernard was retried, but the Northwestern Law School website lists him as an exonerated person.  (People v. Vindiola)  [10/08]

Eddy County, NM 

Johnny Volpato

Feb 5, 1980 (Carlsbad)

“Shortly before midnight on February 5, 1980, Johnny Volpato pulled up to The Corner Drugstore, which he owned, in downtown Carlsbad. Sitting beside him in his late-model Datson was his 36-year-old wife, Elaine. The after-hours drugstore run wasn't unusual for the pharmacist, father of two, and rising local political star. Volpato often opened his drug store at all hours to fill customers' emergency prescriptions. In fact, he even ran ads in the local newspaper with his home phone number so that he could be reached at any time.
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Eric Volz

Nov 21, 2006

Eric Volz, an American citizen, was convicted of the rape and murder of his Nicaraguan ex-girlfriend, Doris Jiménez. Jiménez had been found tied and strangled in the clothing store she owned in San Juan del Sur. Evidence established that Jiménez had been murdered between 11:45 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2006.
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Newport County, RI 

Claus von Bülow

1979-1980  (Newport)

Claus von Bülow was convicted of two counts of attempting to murder his wife, Martha “Sunny” von Bülow. It was alleged that Claus had on two occasions injected Sunny with an overdose of insulin causing her to fall into a coma each time. The alleged crimes occurred at the couple's estate, Clarendon Court, in Newport, RI.

Sunny was a former princess because of her first marriage to Prince Alfred von Auersperg. She was also the daughter of a utilities magnate, George Crawford, and had inherited a reported $100 million from him at age 4. Sunny had two children, Alexander and Ala by Prince Alfie and another daughter, Cosima, by Claus. Claus was a British socialite and the son of Danish aristocrats. He had worked as a personal assistant to oil magnate J. Paul Getty.
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Orange County, TX 

Clarence Von Williams

Apr 30, 1979

Clarence Von Williams was convicted of raping at gunpoint a Bridge City woman and her teenage daughter. The assailant wore a ski mask, blindfolded his victims, and assaulted them in a dark room. Nevertheless the victims claimed to have caught a glimpse of their assailant from underneath their blindfolds. Following the assault, the adult victim's boyfriend convinced her that assailant must be someone she knew because he took great steps to avoid being seen by her. The victim called her friend Lois, who mentioned that Von Williams, her boyfriend, had been out drinking till the wee hours of the morning. The victim had met Von Williams just once, two weeks before, at a two-hour dinner party. The victim then convinced herself that Von Williams was her assailant. At trial, both the victim and her children identified Von Williams as the assailant.

Two months after Von Williams' conviction, another man, Jon Barry Simonis, known as the “Ski-Mask Rapist,” confessed to 77 crimes in 7 states, including the rapes for which Von Williams was convicted. Simonis knew details about the rapes that no one outside the prosecutor's office knew. When shown a videotape of Simonis's confession, the adult victim repeated, “no, no, no, no, no, no,” refusing to admit that someone other than Von Williams had committed the assaults. However, it seemed clear from the shocked expressions of her teenage children that they recognized Simonis. After prosecutors saw the videotape, they joined the defense in a Dec. 1981 motion to vacate Von Williams' conviction and dismiss all charges.  (Witness for the Defense) (Archives)  [5/08]