Although the American legal system is better than many others, it nonetheless has its flaws, evidenced by the number of those wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit. Considering that there are 34 states which still implement the death penalty, being wrongly accused and convicted of a serious crime is a very frightening prospect. Since 1973, 69 people have been released from death row after evidence of their innocence emerged. Most of that evidence came from new scientific techniques and journalist investigations rather than from the normal appeals process.
As many as 75 percent of these exonerations involve eyewitness misidentification, while the remaining 25 percent relate to false confessions—usually obtained through questionable police tactics—and snitches with bad information. A wrongful conviction, or even wrongful accusations can result in extreme emotional trauma and lifelong consequences to the victim. As any person who has been wrongfully accused of doing something they absolutely did not do can tell you, it is an extremely frustrating experience. For some, a wrongful accusation can turn in to hard time in prison. Below are cases of people who were convicted of a heinous crime they never committed.
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· Rolando Cruz was sentenced to death in 1985 for the murder of a ten-year old girl. At the time of Cruz’s arrest, another man authorized his attorneys to tell the prosecutor he was responsible for the girl’s murder, yet his confession was ignored and Cruz was sent to prison. In 1995 Cruz was finally acquitted at retrial; the judge did not even wait for the defense to put on its case before entering a directed verdict of not guilty and three prosecutors and four police officers were indicted for obstruction of justice in the Cruz case.
· In 1990 a Mississippi woman, Sabrina Butler, was sentenced to death after her nine-month old baby mysteriously died. Her conviction was overturned in 1992, and upon re-trial in 1995 Butler was acquitted of the crime. Sudden infant death or cystic kidney disease are now believed to have caused the child’s death.
· In 1984 Darryl Hunt, an African-American man from North Carolina was convicted of the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a white woman, despite the fact no physical evidence tied him to the crime. An all-white jury sentenced Hunt to life in prison. Ten years after his conviction, Hunt was cleared of the rape through DNA testing. Despite the fact that the rape was central to the larger crime of murder, Hunt spent nine more years in prison, until Willard Brown confessed to the rape and the murder of Sykes.
· Verneal Jimerson and Dennis Williams were two of the four men accused of murdering a young couple in 1978. Jimerson was sentenced to death in 1985, with the primary evidence against him being witness Paula Gray, a woman with an IQ of 57. Gray later recanted her entire testimony, saying the police had forced her to lie. Both Jimerson and Williams were released in 1996—Jimerson spent 11 years in prison, and Williams spent 18 years in prison. DNA tests found that none of the four men were involved in the crime, and another man later confessed to the crime.
· While Richard Jewell was not actually convicted of a crime, he was targeted by the FBI as the chief suspect in the 1996 Olympic Games bombing in Atlanta. Jewell was the security guard who spotted a suspicious package, subsequently reporting it to authorities. The package exploded, injuring more than a hundred people and killing one. Jewell was found guilty in the court of public opinion even though he was later cleared of all charges.
· Thomas Kennedy was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for raping his eleven-year old daughter, Casandra. Nine years after his conviction, Casandra came forward to say she had lied about the rape because she was angry at her father for not spending enough time with her.
· Dewey Bozella, an 18-year old young man was sentenced to twenty years in Sing Sing for the murder of a ninety-two year old woman—despite the fact there was no evidence tying him to the gruesome murder and the two witnesses were known criminals. Officials gave Bozella the chance to go free in 1990 if he would admit the crime and say he was sorry. Bozell refused, and the Innocence Project took up his cause, tracking down evidence which resulted in his release in 2009—after spending nearly two decades in prison.
· Dr. Sam Sheppard was convicted in 1954 of the murder of his wife despite evidence, which backed up his story that he did not commit the crime. Apparently the investigators overlooked obvious signs of sexual assault in their zeal to convict Sheppard. Sheppard was eventually exonerated in 1966, however he died four years later of liver disease, ruined emotionally and financially.
It is imperative that a highly experienced attorney be by your side from start to finish if you have been accused of a crime. A knowledgeable criminal defense attorney will protect your rights while ensuring a thorough investigation into the facts of your case takes place.
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If you or someone you love has been charged with a crime, it is important to speak to an experienced Boulder criminal defense attorney immediately. Contact the Boulder criminal defense lawyers at Steven Louth Law Offices today for a free consultation and review of your case. Call us at (303) 422-2297 to start building a solid defense against these serious criminal charges.