Lying is a terrible thing to do. There is a reason why so many of our parents would nag us about lying, punish us severely when we lie, and uphold the importance and the virtues of upholding the truth. They practically beat those virtues into our heads, but there’s a reason for that. Lying doesn’t just make us feel guilty or increase the size of Pinocchio’s nose. It hurts the people around us. Lying does way more to everyone around us than it ever does ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to lying on stands of a trial or in a police report.
Whether we are lying to protect someone or to save our own necks, history tells us that lying has severe consequences for innocent people when we accuse the wrong people of a crime. As much as the truth may hurt us to tell, especially when we are the true culprits of the crime risking our freedom to tell the truth, it is better to do just that than to blame an innocent person for the crime. There are many reasons why we may lie. After all, it is a natural human reaction when faced with a startling situation. We may do so to protect someone, protect ourselves, we’re confused, we’re scared, etc.
Lying about committing a crime and pinning the blame on somebody else is almost as bad as committing the crime itself. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, there are numerous instances across time where people lied about key details of a crime to either save themselves or because they panicked and didn’t know what else to do in such a scary, confusing interrogation. Here are just some examples.
15. Lorenzo Nesi – Monster of Florence
Pietro Pacciani was one of four local men in Florence, Italy who were accused of being the serial killer dubbed as The Monster of Florence. By the time of his charge in 1992, Pacciani was a frail man in his 50s, but had enough of a history of violence—including beating his wife and raping his child—to be charged with being the killer. Though Pacciani was undoubtedly a monster, there was no proper evidence linking him to The Monster. His innocence was debated when Lorenzo Nesi approached the stands as a witness who claimed that Pacciani had been bragging around the neighborhood about killing victims with a gun, even though Pacciani denied owning a gun. Nesi has been considered by critics to be an attention seeker who often fabricated, glamorized, and above all else falsified key details about the case. He even got key facts wrong, like the color of Pacciani’s car. Pacciani was found guilty of all but one murder committed by The Monster—suspect Stephano Mele was already convicted of the first murder—but eventually, Pacciani’s conviction was overturned due to lack of any real, consistent evidence.
14. Amanda Knox – Meredith Kercher Murder
This is one of the most highly publicized and confusing murder cases in recent memory. Many details still aren’t clear and the murderer is still debated. When Amanda Knox was considered a suspect in the murder/rape of her roommate, Meredith Kercher, on the night of November 1st, 2007, Knox recanted earlier claims that Knox had spent the night of the murder with her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito. After interrogations persisted, Knox claimed that she was in the house at the time of the murder—merely blocking her ears from hearing her roommate’s blood-curdling screams—and proceeded to accuse her boss, Patrick Lumumba, of the crime. After being held in custody for 2 weeks, Lumumba was released after his alibi of working at the bar all night checked out. Knox would later claim that her interrogations from police were so mentally and physically traumatizing that she was starting to doubt her own memory. In feeling manipulated into remembering things that didn’t happen, she panicked and indicted Lumumba. Later on, after the fingerprints of Rudy Guede (who fled the country after the murder) were found at the crime scene, Guede, Sollecito, and Knox were all found guilty in the murder. Although, Knox and Sollecito were later acquitted while Guede is still serving a 24-year prison sentence despite affirming his innocence.
13. Bethany Storro – Acid in Her Face
In 2010, news surrounding Bethany Storro swept the nation when she claimed that a black woman approached her and doused her face with boiling acid. Later on, everyone’s sympathy for Storro quickly turned into confusion when it was revealed that not only she lied about the attack, her wounds were self-inflicted. In a 2013 interview with ABC, Storro admitted that prior to her injuries, she suffered from a mental illness called body dysmorphic disorder, which refers to when someone is bothered by minor or non-existent flaws in their physical features to the point of obsession. Storro couldn’t bear to face the woman in her mirror as every morning, she believed she was looking into the eyes of a distorted monster. So, in an attempt at suicide, she got her hands on some acid and threw it in her own face. When her suicide attempt failed and left her disfigured, she panicked about what to do next or how to explain her injuries. Not knowing what else to do, she ran into the street, screamed for help, and professed that a stranger attacked her. Early into their investigation, police received claims from witnesses that Storro was alone when she collapsed to the ground. After confessing to the truth 2 weeks later, Storro pled guilty to lying to the police and was sentenced to 1-year in a mental institution.
12. Susan Smith – Kidnapping of Her Children
On October 25th, 1994, Susan Smith made a police report that her two children, 3-year old Michael and 14-month Daniel, were kidnapped after a black man had carjacked them and drove away with the children inside. After pleading in front of the world for the rescue and safety of her children for 9 days straight, Smith admitted on November 3rd that she herself murdered her children. While reeling from an estranged relationship with her husband, Smith had an affair with a local wealthy man named Tom Findlay. Even though Findlay had no plans to pursue anything more than a fling with Smith, she believed that she could run away with him for a relationship if she got rid of her kids. After all, the weekend before the murder, Findlay severed ties with Smith because he didn’t want to carry responsibility for her children. In her naivety, she let her 1990 Mazda roll into the John D. Long Lake while her boys were inside. When the truth came out, she was sentenced to life in prison and won’t be eligible for parole until the year 2024.
11. Henry Cook – Gideon V. Wainwright Case
While thievery is pretty light to call a “horrible crime” compared to most of the crimes on this list, this is definitely the most revolutionary case on this list and deserves a mention. As an old drifter in his 50s, Clarence Earl Gideon was accused of breaking into a pool hall and stealing money and alcohol. The accusation came from the lips of Henry Cook, who provided his testimony with no further proof other than claiming to have seen it with his own eyes. Gideon couldn’t afford a lawyer and so he represented himself. In a case that lasted all of one day, Gideon was sentenced to 5 years in prison. However, Gideon used his time in the slammer wisely. While inside, he studied the legal system and then, in a move that was considered unprecedented by 1963 standards, wrote a letter to the Supreme Court stating that his right to a fair trial was denied because he couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent him. Assuring that he was entitled to a lawyer, he was given his 2nd trial with W. Fred Turner as his lawyer. Thanks to Turner, he was able to get Gideon off free of all charges while simultaneously pointing the finger at Henry Cook as the real culprit. Whether Cook did or didn’t do the crime is unknown as he was never charged, but we all know now that Gideon didn’t do it.
10. Allen Hall – Wilmington 10
At a time when racial tensions were at an all time high during 1970s era Wilmington, North Carolina, 10 African Americans were accused, charged, and convicted with bombing a white-owned grocery store. A prominent presence in the case was convicted felon, Allen Hall. He served as an eyewitness on the case and a key force in getting the Wilmington 10 sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison altogether. Little did the jury know that Allen was persuaded by police investigators to lie on their behalf and ensure the imprisonment of the 10 African Americans in question. Of course, the convict didn’t do so for free. In exchange for framing the Wilmington 10, Hall was promised a prison release and to trade his crowded cell for a beach house with his girlfriend. It wasn’t until several years later that Hall confessed to lying on the stand and not until 2012 that the surviving members of the Wilmington 10 were pardoned and compensated.
9. Judy Johnson/George Freeman – McMartin Preschool Trial
In 1983, Judy Johnson made a bold assumption that her toddler son was sodomized by his McMartin Preschool teacher, Ray Buckey, after her child told her he was having painful bowel movements. A note was sent to the hundreds of parents who brought their children to the school telling them to ask their children if any of them had been abused as well. By 1984, it was believed that 360 children had been abused at the school. However, the methods used to question the children were questionable and led the children to fall under false memory syndrome. The children made strange allegations that in addition to being abused, they saw witches, satanic rituals, and even Chuck Norris was one of the abusers. Despite all of this, in March 1984, Ray Buckey, his wife Peggy, school founder Virginia McMartin, and the school’s teachers Mary Ann Jackson, Betty Raidor, and Babette Spitler were all charged with 115 counts of child abuse. It is also worth noting that while Ray Buckey retained his innocence, his cellmate George Freeman claimed that he admitted in their cell that he touched the children. This was later found out to be a lie after Freeman confessed to perjury. In 1990, after a judge declared there was no clear evidence stating who did or didn’t molest these children, Peggy Buckey was acquitted of all charges while Ray Buckey was cleared of 52 out of 60 accounts and was freed on bail after 5 years in prison. As for Judy Johnson who started this whole fiasco, it was later discovered that she suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. She died in 1986 from chronic alcoholism.
8. Marvella Brown – Glenn Ford Case
On November 5th, 1983, a jewelry store was robbed and the shop owner, Isadore Rozeman, was shot dead. Though he denied doing the crime, Glenn Ford was a prime suspect because he had been near the store earlier in the day. Witness Marvella Brown told police investigators that she watched her boyfriend, his friend Ford, and others leave their house together after Ford asked if they were going to the store. Ford left with a brown paper bag and upon returning to the house, had a different bag with a handgun on his waistband. After Ford and company were charged, Brown then went on the witness stand to admit that she lied in her earlier testimony because after being shot in the head earlier in her life, she had trouble thinking and remembering things. Regardless, Ford was still convicted of capital murder in December 1984. He spent 30 years on death row before investigators determined that evidence was too inconsistent to keep Ford imprisoned any longer. Ford was released in March 2014, but died of lung cancer on June 2015.
7. Sam Hadaway – Walter Ellis Case
On August 30th, 1990, 16-year old Jessica Payne was found dead. A month beforehand, a Milwaukee County jail inmate reported that Richard Gwin had killed someone who matched Payne’s description. Gwin admitted to killing Payne with help from Sam Hadaway and Chaunte Ott. Though Ott denied his involvement, Hadaway confirmed Ott helped them assault Payne. Discovered in Ott’s home were two box cutters that investigators assumed were used to slice Payne’s throat. Gwin was not charged while Hadaway took a plea deal before being charged with robbery for a 5-year sentence. Ott, on the other hand, was sentenced to life in prison in 1995 for the rape and murder of Jessica Payne. In a strange turn of events, in 2002, a further forensic investigation linked the semen found on Payne to the same semen located on other women who were murdered long after Ott had been jailed. Therefore, he couldn’t have possibly done the initial crime. Who did commit the crime was serial killer Walter Ellis, who has been linked to murders committed between 1985 and 2007, the year Ellis was caught and Ott was freed. Years after his testimony, Hadaway claimed he was pressured by police to accuse Ott. Although Ott was later compensated in $25,000 from the state of Wisconsin and then $6.5 million after winning a wrongful conviction lawsuit, that doesn’t change the fact that Ott spent 12 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.
6. Cassandra Kennedy – Father Thomas Kennedy
In early 2001, 11-year old Cassandra Kennedy claimed that her father, Thomas Kennedy, had raped her at least 3 times. Her accusations landed Thomas Kennedy in prison with a 15-year sentence on his name. After spending 9 of those years in the slammer, Cassandra Kennedy came forward in 2012 at the age of 23 and admitted that she lied. According to Cassandra, the only reason she made such a serious false claim was because she was “upset because [she] felt he wasn’t around enough” following his divorce from her mother. After coming forward to the police in adulthood and recanting her earlier claims of assault, her father was released from prison later in the week. Neither the father nor his daughter has spoken much to the media in recent years, but both are trying to move on from the incident and Thomas Kennedy is trying to re-enter society as a man proven innocent.
5. Jim Conley – The Murder of Mary Phagan
On April 22nd, 1913, the bludgeoned body of Mary Phagan was found in the basement bathroom at the factory where she worked. The prime suspect in her murder was Leo Frank, a co-worker. The factory janitor, Jim Conley, went on trial to say that he watched Frank murder the woman after Frank told Conley to be on lookout while him and Phagan had a break room rendezvous. Apparently, when Phagan refused Frank’s advances, he responded by beating her to death. Though Conley was caught red-handed washing out a bloody skirt, Conley claimed that after he watched Frank murder the woman, Frank coerced Conley into helping him dispose of the body. Despite inconsistencies in Conley’s story, Frank was sentenced to hang while Frank was given a year in jail. Over 100 years after Phagan’s murder took place, it is still widely debated that Frank was innocent while Conley was the culprit. Judging by the inconsistencies in Conley’s story, that very well may be true. The most shocking stick of proof came in 1982 when on the deathbed of town local Alonzo Mann, he claimed that he watched Frank carry Phagan’s body alone, which doesn’t match up with Conley’s testimony that Frank helped him.
4. Charles Stuart – Murder of His Wife & Unborn Child
In 1989, Charles Stuart alleged that he and his pregnant wife, Carol, were robbed at a stoplight by a black gunman. The encounter left Stuart shot in the stomach while his wife was murdered with a fatal headshot. While Carol’s baby was delivered that night via an emergency two month premature caesarean section, the child died from its traumas 17 days later. During the police’s investigation, African American Willie Bennett was considered as fitting Stuart’s description and Stuart was quick to identify Bennett as the culprit. However, on January 3rd, 1990, Charles Stuart’s own brother claimed that Stuart himself was the killer all along. Matthew Stuart admitted that he watched his brother shoot Carol and after Charles shot himself in the stomach to make the carjacking claim seem authentic, he had Matthew chuck the gun he used off the Pines River Bridge. Hours after Matthew’s confession, Charles committed suicide. In 1992, Matthew pled guilty and was sentenced to 3-5 years in prison.
3. “Monk” Stevenson – Thomas & Meeks Griffin Case
Black brothers Thomas and Meeks Griffin were running a successful farming operation in 1913 when they were falsely accused of murdering a 75-year old Confederate veteran named John Q. Lewis. They were convicted based on claims made by John “Monk” Stevenson, another black man accused of murdering Lewis. Monk thought that since the Griffin brothers were allegedly the richest black men in the South Carolina area, they could use their money to beat the case. So, in an attempt to save his own skin, Monk pinned the blame on them. It turned out that all parties involved would receive the death penalty in 1915. The Griffins because of Monk’s claims and Monk because as a petty thief, he stole the victim’s pistol and the weapon was found in Monk’s house. Ultimately, it is widely speculated that Lewis’ murder had something to do with his affair with 22-year old Anna Davis. In any case, it wasn’t until 2009 that the brothers were pardoned from any possible involvement in their crime thanks to their great-grandson, radio personality Tom Joyner.
2. Victoria Price and Ruby Bates – Scottsboro Boys Case
In 1931, 9 African American youths who spent their days hoboing on trains were accused of raping two Caucasian women, Victoria Price and Ruby Bates, on a train in Scottsboro, Alabama. Since the defendants were given poor legal representation—they were 9 black kids in front of an all white jury during a segregated South, of course they received poor legal representation—all the boys except for 12-year old Roy Wright were convicted and sentenced to death. Since Wright was considered too young to suffer the death penalty—that isn’t to say there weren’t some who still tried to have the minor put to death—his case went to a mistrial. While earlier medical examinations on Price and Bates found semen in both women, their calm and not physically injured demeanor contradicted their claims that they were beaten in the back and head. Price herself stated during cross-examinations that she had a bad memory. In Bates’ 2nd testimony, she admitted to lying in her initial testimony and that none of the boys had raped them. She just went along with the story that Price made up. By 2013, all of the Scottsboro Boys received posthumous pardons of their crimes.
1. Carolyn Bryant – Emmett Till Case
In 1955, a 21-year old Caucasian woman named Carolyn Bryant infamously claimed that 14-year old African American Emmett Till had been making unwanted physical and verbal advances towards her. Flirting with her, grabbing her, verbally threatening her, etc. The most popular claim being that the boy wolf-whistled at Bryant. Based on these claims, Till was beaten and lynched in the state of Mississippi by Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half-brother J.W. Milam. Most recently, in Timothy B. Tyson’s upcoming book, The Blood of Emmett Till, it has been revealed that Bryant fabricated the most significant aspects of her story. In 2007, at the age of 72, Bryant admitted that she lied about Till making verbal and physical advances towards her. Though the jury did not hear her testimony, because the judge deemed it not relevant to Till’s murder, but her claims were still put on record and heard by court spectators. Her husband and Milam were found not guilty. Since the news broke this week, people around the world have been infuriated and outraged that Bryant’s claims are now revealed as lies. Now, at the age of 82, Bryant’s family are keeping her whereabouts secret.