In 2007, Sally Clark died of alcohol poisoning after failing to recover from her overturned conviction and imprisonment in the UK. Her psychiatric and substance abuse issues stemmed from the alleged murders of her two sons, one in 1996 and the other in 1998. She was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison for smothering and shaking her children to death. In January 2003, her convictions were all overturned on the basis that the boys’ deaths were from natural causes, that certain evidence had not been disclosed, and that testimony from medical experts was not credible. However, like many falsely accused victims, her life would never be the same again.
After her infant sons’ deaths in 1991 and 1999, British mother Angela Clark served one year of a life sentence for smothering her children. Further investigation revealed that her family had a significant history of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, having lost a daughter in 1989 to SIDS before the boys’ births. Her grandmother and great-grandmother had lost children in similar ways. In 2003, her conviction was overturned. Clark struggled to rebuild her life after her release and now fights for other mothers who are wrongfully accused of the same crime.
Imagine being falsely accused of rape by your own daughter. That’s what happened to Thomas Kennedy who spent 10 years in prison after his daughter accused him of raping her on three separate occasions in 2001. Physical evidence was presented along with detailed accounts of the rapes by 11-year-old Cassandra Kennedy. Cassandra was a troubled girl who was upset over her parents’ divorce along with her father’s drinking and marijuana use and had made threats against her school just before bringing forward the accusations against her father. Ten years later, 22-year-old Cassandra went to the police and claimed that she had made the whole thing up. Her father was released in 2012 and was compensated with over $500,000 in damages by the state of Washington.
Nora Wall is a former Irish nun of the Sisters of Mercy who was wrongfully convicted of rape in June 1999 and served four days of a life sentence in July 1999 before her conviction was quashed. Wall was the first woman in the history of the Irish State to be convicted of rape, the first person to receive a life sentence for rape, and the only person in the history of the state to be convicted on repressed memory evidence.
Richard Jewell was a security guard working the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia, when he delivered a suspicious package to police. Soon after, the bomb inside the package detonated, killing two and injuring over 100. Because of the abundance of interviews that he gave after the bombing, the FBI began to suspect Jewell of planing the bomb in order to be perceived as a hero in the media. It took months of interrogation to clear him of any wrong doing. As a result, Jewell sued several media outlets for libel and slander.
Ontario resident, Tammy Marquardt, was sent to prison for life after being accused of smothering her two-year-old son to death. Kenneth Wynne suffered from asthma, pneumonia, and seizures throughout his short life, and an epileptic seizure was later found to be the most likely cause of his death. Pathologist Charles Smith was the examiner who made the initial accusation of murder, not only in this case but in others, which eventually led to him being stripped of his medical license. The Ontario courts overturned the case after Marquardt spent nearly 14 years in prison, losing custody of her other children and having to rebuild her life after so many years of incarceration.
Although there was no evidence linking 19-year-old Darryl Hunt to the rape and stabbing death of 25-year-old Deborah Sykes, a jury went ahead and convicted him anyway. Hunt served 19 years starting in 1984, but thanks to DNA testing, his name was cleared, he was released from prison, and he spent the remainder of his life helping to clear others of crimes that they did not commit. He died in North Carolina in 2016.
Yet another case of a DNA evidence swinging the proceedings in favor of the accused is the case of Lynn DeJac, who was convicted of strangling her 13-year-old daughter in 1994. DeJac was serving a 25 to life sentence when she was exonerated in 2007. DNA evidence pointed to DeJac’s former boyfriend, Dennis P. Donahue, as the owner of the bloodstains found in Crystallynn Girard’s room on the afternoon of her murder, and DeJac’s name was cleared.
The Mickelberg Brothers
Australian brothers Ray, Peter, and Brian Mickelberg were involved in what was famously known as the Perth Mint Swindle, a robbery of 49 gold bars valued at $650,000 at the time of the crime in 1983. Raymond served eight years of a 20 year sentence; Peter served six years of a 14 year sentence; and Brian was released after 9 months after it was discovered that authorities fabricated confessions, planted evidence, lied at the trials, and tortured the accused in order to frame them for the robbery. Surviving brothers Ray and Peter are still seeking justice for their framing.
Dewey Bozella is a former amateur boxer who is best known for being imprisoned for the 1983 murder of an elderly woman. Bozella served 26 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in 2009. Lawyers discovered new evidence that had been suppressed by prosecutors showing Bozella was, in fact, innocent and had been framed.
Why would you admit a crime that you never committed? Gerry Conlon did just that after police tortured him to confess to the Irish Republican Army bombing in 1974, which killed five and injured 64. Thankfully, he was exonerated when evidence of his torture was presented after serving 12 years of his 30 year sentence.
Arthur Allan Thomas
When law enforcement is corrupt, innocent people suffer. New Zealand farmer Arthur Allan Thomas learned this all too well when he was convicted of a double murder case in 1970, all because a rifle cartridge case was planted in the garden of the house where the murders took place. Although the police who planted the case are now dead, the authorities are still conducting a thorough review of the original investigation to get to the bottom of the incident. Thomas, meanwhile, was released after serving nine years in prison.
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter fought professionally as a middleweight boxer from 1961 to 1966. In 1966, he was arrested and wrongly convicted for a triple homicide in the Lafayette Bar and Grill in Paterson, New Jersey. He and another man, John Artis, were tried and convicted twice for the murders, but after the second conviction was overturned in 1985, prosecutors chose not to try the case for a third time.
A 14-year-old Canadian student was sentenced to death in 1959 in the strangling death of his classmate, Lynne Harper. Steven Truscott was set to be the youngest person ever placed on death row, but a temporary reprieve was granted to postpone the execution, and he was eventually given life imprisonment. He became eligible for parole at the age of 24, going on to become a millworker, raise a family, and live a peaceful life. In 2007, new evidence presented in the case overturned Truscott’s conviction, and in 2008, he was awarded $6.5 million in compensation from the Ontario government.
Dr. Samuel Holmes Sheppard
Dr. Samuel Sheppard was arrested for the beating death of his wife, Marilyn, in their Cleveland home in 1954. Authorities didn’t buy his story that he was hit over the head by a “bushy-haired man” upon discovering his wife’s body, especially when they couldn’t find evidence of a home invasion and discovered that Sheppard was having an extramarital affair. He was given life imprisonment for second degree murder and served 10 years before a retrial in 1966 found him not guilty due to a mishandling of evidence. Marilyn’s murder has never been solved, but the story became the basis for the hit movie, The Fugitive.
John P. Davies Jr.
As an expert in Chinese relations in China, John Paton Davies Jr. predicted that the Communists under Mao Zedong would win the Chinese Civil War. Because of this comment, his loyalty to the United States was questioned. Even though no one could substantiate the claims, he was still asked to resign. When he refused, he was fired. After 10 years, Davies was finally exonerated by the State Department in 1969.
Mahmood Hussein Mattan
Mahmood Hussein Mattan had just lost his job when he was accused of robbing and slashing the throat of pawnshop worker Lily Volpert in 1952. His Somali heritage caused many in Cardiff to point the finger at him when a man matching his description was seen leaving the shop on the night of Volpert’s murder. His language barrier mixed with racist attitudes and twisted evidence led to his hanging that same year. In 1998, Mattan was exonerated after it was discovered that crucial evidence pointing to his innocence was withheld in court. He was the last prisoner to be executed by hanging and the only prisoner whose family was compensated by the prison after his name was cleared.
Charles Butler McVay III
The only captain ever court-martialed for the sinking of a ship, Charles Butler McVay III was the commanding officer of the Indianapolis when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1945. The cruiser took only 12 minutes to sink, killing 300 of the men on board and 600 more who were killed by dehydration or sharks over the next four days. McVay was one of the 300 survivors of the sinking and was found guilty of failing to steer a zigzag course to avoid torpedoes. He was stripped of his seniority but retired as a rear admiral in 1949. He committed suicide in 1968 but was exonerated posthumously in 2001.
General John D. Lavelle
Another case of a man’s service to his country gone wrong is that of General John D Lavelle, who was stripped of his ranks because of allegations of misconduct over bombing missions in the Vietnam War. A little over 20 years after his death, President Obama nominated him posthumously back to the grade of general on the retired list. Information was released that General Lavelle was only following orders and that the misconduct was in fact higher up the chain of command.
Thomas and Meeks Griffin
Racism was the motive that sent brothers Thomas and Meeks Griffin to the electric chair in 1915 for the murder of Confederate army veteran John Q. Lewis. The Griffin brothers were the wealthy owners of a 138-acre farm in South Carolina with no ties to Lewis. Small time criminal John Stevenson was linked to the crime through the gun used in the 1913 shooting. That’s when he accused the brothers of being the real killers. A racist judge didn’t help matters, and the brothers were forced to sell their farm to pay for their court costs. Their efforts were unsuccessful as they were tried and convicted, despite a petition from over 100 prominent white citizens claiming their innocence. They were eventually pardoned posthumously in 2009.
Hawley Harvey Crippen
In 1910, British doctor Hawley Harvey Crippen was convicted of poisoning his wife, Cora Turner, and dissolving her body with acid. He was hanged for the murder after he was found to have purchased a large amount of the poison that killed her and was attempting to run off to Quebec with another woman. In 2007, with the help of genetic evidence, it was discovered that the torso found under the brick floor of his basement thought to be Cora’s was actually that of a man. It also doesn’t make sense that Crippen would poison his wife and then mutilate the body, since poisonings are usually made to look like a natural death. While this doesn’t clear Crippen of the crime, it also doesn’t provide the concrete evidence that was used to convict him.
Alfred Dreyfus was a French artillery officer of Jewish background whose trial and conviction in 1894 on charges of treason became one of the most tense political dramas in modern French and European history. Dreyfus was accused of selling military secrets to the German military. The idea that French Jews were thought to be disloyal citizens at the time led to his conviction and sentence to life imprisonment for these crimes. Known today as the Dreyfus Affair, the incident eventually ended with Dreyfus’s complete exoneration as public opinion swayed in Dreyfus’ favor and evidence pointing to the real culprits emerged.
Jean Calas, a French Protestant, became the symbol of religious intolerance in France. Catholicism was the state religion of France, which did not legally recognize other preferences in faith at the time. After one of Calas’s sons converted to Catholicism, another son died. Authorities insisted that Jean Calas murdered his son out of fear that he would follow his brother and convert too. Although evidence pointed to the fact that his son committed suicide, Calas was still convicted of the crime and sentenced to death by the wheel. His posthumous exoneration was realized with the help of Voltaire, who was able to convince King Louis XV to overturn the previous judgment. Calas’s family was eventually compensated.
The Salem Witch Trials
Gossip, paranoia, and feuding was the deadly mix which led to over 200 citizens being accused of witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, from 1692 to 1693. When two young girls in town started having “fits,” they blamed their behavior on three outcast women who practiced “the Devil’s magic.” Soon, more people in town were accused of witchcraft, leading to months of investigations, testimonies, trials, and eventually 19 hangings and one man crushed to death with stones, all based on word-of-mouth evidence and theatrical behavior in court. Years later, the state apologized for the poorly handled events; the names of the accused were all cleared; and their families were compensated for the damage caused.
Saint Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc, nicknamed “The Maid of Orléans,” is a folk heroine of France and a Roman Catholic saint. She was born a peasant girl in what is now eastern France. Claiming divine guidance, she led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War. She was eventually captured and put on trial by the pro-English Bishop Pierre Cauchon for charges of “insubordination and heterodoxy” and was burned at the stake for heresy when she was just 19 years old. Twenty-five years after her execution, a court authorized by Pope Callixtus III examined the trial, pronounced her innocent, and declared her a martyr.