10 Innocent People who Died on Death Row
Justice can be simplified in the following process – you commit a crime,
police apprehend you, and you go to jail to possibly die. But is the death penalty
really effective? Does it help in reducing crime? We can’t say for sure, but one
thing is certain - it punishes everyone, accused or innocent. The death penalty
issue has always been a hot button topic where each side tends to be more and
more polarized with their views. Some believe that in the Untied State the death
penalty should be used more frequently, while others believe that is is an
infraction of human rights and death sentences should never be carried out. These 10 cases of
miscarriages of justice by the judicial branch will likely challenge your view
of crime and punishment.
10) Cameron Todd Willingham
Texas is the ultimate capital punisher. You’ll find out why as the list goes
on. The first innocent man who was executed in Texas is Cameron Todd Willingham,
father of three beautiful and deceased children who he was accused of killing by
arson. According to the police, Willingham burned down their family home in
Corsicana, Texas in 1991 with the three children still inside.
Picture of Cameron Todd Willingham From His Mug Shot
maintained his innocence until his execution in 2004. So why did the judges vote
guilty? Aside from an outdated fact about how fires work, a jail house informant
who the judges claimed to look unreliable, somehow swayed their decision. He was
also considered a sociopath, simply because of the Led Zeppelin posters in his
Innocent Fact: In a shocking twist of fate, Willingham’s ex-wife named Stacy
Kuykendall stated in a 2011 interview that Texas shouldn’t pardon her
ex-husband, and that he was guilty of murdering their children. Throughout the
trial, Kuykendall had been supportive of her husband, up until his execution.
According to Kuykendall, Willingham admitted everything to her while he was on
9) Gary Graham
Gary Graham was accused of robbing and shooting Bobby Grant Lambert outside a
store. The star witness to the crime was a woman who saw the killer from her car
window and was 30-40 meters away from the crime scene. Incredibly, the judges
bought it, and Graham was executed in 2000 by lethal injection.
Gary Graham Pictured Prior to his Execution
Innocent Fact: Other witnesses in the defense of Graham were two employees of
the store who saw the murder, and they both agreed that Graham wasn’t the
killer. Compare their 5-feet distance to the 30-40-meter distance of the star
witness from the real killer. As of today, three of the judges had signed an
affidavit that they would change their decision if only this evidence was
8) Claude Jones
Some people die defending their country. Some people die protecting someone
they love. Some people die in a very awe-inspiring, immortalizing way where
their death is celebrated, rather than being mourned. Claude Jones died because
of a single strand of hair. Jones was accused of shooting Allen Hilzendager who
was working his liquor store shift in 1989. The single evidence the police had
against Jones was a single strand of hair found beside the victim’s body.
that time, the technology of DNA testing was yet to be developed. However,
Stephen Robertson claimed in court that the hair was Jones’ just by looking at
it. Robertson admitted the hair was too small to be tested. Claude Jones was
executed in 2000 for a single strand of hair and a case that fell way short of
proving him guilty.
Innocent Fact: Bush denied a stay of execution despite the request to have a
decent DNA testing of the hair. In 2010, experts have proven that the hair
didn’t belong to Jones after all.
7) John Perry and Family
In 17th Century UK, a certain gentleman named William Harrison went out for a
walk. Nighttime came and Harrison didn’t return so his anxious wife told the
family servant, John Perry, to go look for her husband. The next morning,
neither Perry nor Harrison returned home. Rumors of a full set of clothes that
were slashed and covered in blood started spreading, and everyone assumed it was
Harrison’s. John Perry was considered the primary suspect. Perry denied the
accusations during his trial. After some time however, he admitted that he,
together with his mother and brother, have plotted to kill William Harrison for
rent money. The three were found guilty and were hanged in 1661.
Innocent Fact: Wait, the story’s not yet finished. Two years after the Perry
family execution, an exhausted but yet in good condition William Harrison
returned home. He claimed that he was abducted by three gentlemen in white and
was kept in a cargo ship for two years.
6) Troy Davis
Troy Davis was accused of shooting a police officer in 1989. Back then,
forensic science and evidence testing wasn't very really reliable - that can
also be said about the witnesses. His case was reviewed multiple times, and
during those times the so-called evidence proved to be falsified. The witnesses
even changed their statements, making Davis supposedly innocent. But for some
reason, the court denied his appeals of innocence, and in 2011 he was finally
executed. Davis’ last words were “I am innocent. I did not have a gun.”
World Coalition Against the Death Penalty Holding Pictures
of Troy Davis
By World Coalition Against the Death Penalty from Paris, France (Paris Die-in, July 2, 2008) [CC-BY-SA-2.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
Innocent Fact: The execution of Troy Davis caught the attention of the whole
world, and his case is considered one of the most blatant examples of a
miscarriage of justice. Majority, if not all, believed he was innocent. His
supporters include former US president Jimmy Carter, former FBI director William
Sessions and even Pope Benedict XVI, yet the all-star roster was not enough to
save Davis’ life.
5) Lena Baker
It’s rare for women to be given death sentences, yet that doesn’t make them
susceptible to being inappropriately convicted. Lena Baker, an African-American
mother of three, who lived in the same neighborhood Troy Davis lived decades
ago. She was tried in 1944 for shooting a Caucasian man, Ernest Knight, who
happens to be her employer. Of all the people on this list, she’s the only one
proven to have done the killing. So why is she innocent?
Lena Baker in 1945 During Prison Transfer
She claims Knight had
been keeping her as a sex slave. The last time Knight tried to rape her, she
took the gun he was pointing at her and shot him to defend herself. She
surrendered that same day, and even with a valid reason, she was still
Innocent Fact: Baker was tried in an all-male, all-Caucasian court. That
pretty much sums up her fate. She never had a chance and the following year, she
sat on the electric chair and died for defending herself. Justice came 61 years
later as Georgia pardoned Baker’s crime in 2005.
4) Thomas and Meeks Griffin
When a miscarriage of justice occurs, you can’t really choose who to blame -
the witness who stated false information, or the members of the court who
would actually believe anything they heard. This was the case of
African-Americans Thomas and Meeks Griffin when they were executed for the
murder of a Confederate Army veteran.
Also in capital cases back then, racism
played a major factor in a convict’s fate. The Griffins were tried in an
all-Caucasian court, just like Lena Baker. Surprisingly, more than a hundred
people, most of them Caucasian, petitioned to postpone the execution. Despite
massive support, the Griffins were executed in 1915 by electric chair.
Innocent Fact: The man that got two innocent men executed was a small-time
thief named John Stevenson, and he had a rather interesting reason for hemming
them up. He thought the Griffins were rich enough to afford legal services,
giving them a higher chance of acquittal. True, the Griffins earned a large area
of land that could have been used to finance better legal services. They were
pardoned in October 2009.
3) Joseph O’Dell
Not everyone on this list is actually innocent when it comes to personality
and criminal records. Joseph O’Dell has served time in jail for kidnapping and
robbery cases in Florida. The victim claimed O’Dell tried to rape her. He was
then accused of raping and killing Helen Schartner in 1983. Blood on his shirt
at the time of the murder and a rumor started by a prison snitch caused O'Dell
to be arrested in the first place. O’Dell tried to appeal to the court to
examine and test the blood on the shirt, but he was rejected twice.
of supporters included both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. Despite that,
he was executed in 1997.
Innocent Fact: His tragic fate wasn’t really the most painful thing O’Dell
had to deal with. It was the fact that he won’t even get to spend time with his
new wife Lori Urs, a Boston University law student who helped by advocating his
innocence. The two were married hours before the time of the execution. The
newlyweds were then separated for obvious security reasons. Put that on your
list of most tragic love stories.
2) Ellis Wayne Felker
What could Ellis Wayne Felker had done to agitate the court of Georgia that
they would go as far as to seclude vital evidences, alter an official finding,
and denying Felker of a second trial that might have saved his life? Ellis Wayne
Felker was a suspect to the rape and murder of Evelyn Joy Ludlum in 1981. An
untrained technician conducted an autopsy on the victim and found out that the
body had been dead for three days. The technician thought this might eliminate
Felker as a suspect, so he deliberately changed it to five days. Felker was
clearly innocent and there was a ton of evidence to prove it.
Ellis Wayne Felker
A DNA test
conducted proved no connection between the victim’s body and Felker. Aside from
that, a sworn statement of the real murderer was uncovered by Felker’s attorney
but they were all kept in seclusion for the sole purpose of executing him.
Felker was unlawfully executed in 1996.
Innocent Fact: Ellis Wayne Felker was just a mere leather shop owner,
although he had been previously imprisoned in 1976 for aggravated sodomy. Before
he was executed, he asked a person to videotape the execution of the guy before
him, to prove that the death penalty is wrong and inhumane.
1) Carlos De Luna
In the classic comedy play ‘Menaechmi’, two identical twin brothers who were
separated when they were young kids cross paths in Epidamnus. As soon as the two
set foot on the place, everyone would always mistake the one from the other. In
the end, the two brothers meet and went back to their hometown of Syracuse. In
the Carlos De Luna Case however, a mistaken identity didn’t end in a good way
and actually cost someone his life. In 1983, Wanda Lopez was stabbed during her
night shift at a gas station. When police came to investigate, they found Carlos
De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck. He was hiding because he violated his
drinking probation, but he didn’t know he would be apprehended and executed for
the murder of a woman he never knew.
Carlos De Luna Being Photographed Upon His Apprehension
Innocent Fact: Police didn’t even bother looking for another suspect.
Witnesses positively identified De Luna as the suspect, not knowing that the
real killer looks almost like him. What’s worse is that they share the same
name, too. Carlos Hernandez was a more sinister Carlos – he had 17 stabbing
incidents before the Lopez murder. Comparisons of the two Carlos mug shots show
the likeness of the two - Hernandez sporting a distinct mustache. Hernandez even
admitted to the murder himself, but it didn’t help poor De Luna. In the end, De
Luna was executed in 1989.
Poor detective work, incompetent judges, unreliable witnesses, questionable
informants or racism – whatever you blame it on, it is apparent that something
with the death penalty needs to be fixed. As the old proverb says, “It is better
to let ten guilty people escape, than to let one innocent man suffer.” If only
these people were properly tried and judged, doubts in the judicial system would
never exist. Whatever your stand on death penalty is, you have to remember that
a good judicial system would make any form of penalties effective and above all
else, mitigate the likelihood of condemning innocent people to death.
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