With our justice system usually in the right, it can be hard to believe that sometimes the law can also have its faults. There to protect us from the baddies of the world, the criminal justice system is designed to do just that, honestly and fairly. However, not always the case, there have been times when the law has most definitely failed, dramatically. That’s right, resulting in a number of people being wrongly imprisoned, as well as sending the innocent to their deaths, it can be extremely upsetting to read such cases in which the wrong man or woman has been condemned for something they actually didn’t do.
Called a ‘miscarriage’ of justice, the term refers to a person who has been convicted of a crime that they didn’t commit. With some miscarriages eventually able to be overturned or ‘quashed’, the actual likelihood of that happening is surprisingly low, with it strangely difficult to achieve, no matter what the evidence points to. Also used as one of the main arguments against the death penalty, many people all over the world use such cases as evidence that capital punishment should be abolished. Plus, with a variety of studies suggesting the act itself is more common than we actually think, reports have stated that between 2.3 and 5% of all prisoners in the USA alone are in fact innocent. However, seemingly working both ways, there have also been cases of obvious criminals surprisingly getting away with what they’ve done, with the law unable to prove it even with an enormous amount of evidence.
With miscarriages of justice happening since the beginning of the legal system, here are 15 of the most horrific miscarriages of justice ever.
15. The Man Who ‘Poisoned His Children’
Wrongly convicted for the murder of his seven children, James Joseph Richardson was accused of poisoning the food of his whole family. Said to have laced their lunch with organic phosphate pesticide, Richardson was sentenced to death, which was later reduced to life imprisonment. However, exonerated in 1989, after a whopping 21 years in jail, Richardson was awarded a measly $1.2 million, but has yet to receive a single dime. With his wrongful imprisonment said to be connected to race issues, Richardson told of the hateful behavior he had received throughout the trial and his arrest. Plus, with the trial often being accused of being unfair, the judge was said to constantly claim that Richardson was guilty, as well as appointing an all white jury. A sad story to say the least, the whole event was captured in a documentary film released in 2016 titled Time Simply Passes, which focuses on Richardson’s life from the very beginning, up until his exoneration.
14. The Man Who Stumbled Upon A Body
Spending half of his life in prison, William Dillon was charged with murder at the tender age of 22 years old. That’s right, spending a massive 27 years in prison, Dillon was arrested because he just so happened to stumble upon a body, despite having a reliable and concrete alibi. That’s right, with it being a ‘wrong time, wrong place’ kind of affair, authorities failed in their chase for the right guy, believing it to be an easy case to solve.
Finally exonerated after DNA testing proved his innocence, Dillon regularly tells his story, as well as continually fighting for others who have been wrongfully imprisoned. However, refusing to remain bitter, Dillon recently stated his love for the country that so ruthlessly wronged him, claiming, “It is so emotional and so deep-ingrained in my heart and soul. I am a true patriot. Regardless of what happened, I firmly believe in America and I firmly believe in who we are as a people.” What a guy!
13. The Man Who ‘Assaulted And Kidnapped’
Locked up for a whopping 35 years, James Bain is surprisingly calm with regards to the way he’s been treated, recently stating, “how can I be angry, you can’t go back”. Wrongfully imprisoned for breaking and entering, kidnapping, and rape, Bain spent the 35 years moving between a number of prisons across Florida.
Maintaining his innocence from the very beginning, Bain often suggested that DNA testing be used, only to be ignored several times. Hearing about his case, the Innocence Project of Florida, a non-profit organization designed to help innocent prisoners, offered to help Bain. With the law finally giving Bain the DNA testing he so wanted, the results saw that Bain was completely innocent, freeing him almost immediately. Serving the longest amount of time behind bars for an innocent man, Bain received $1.7 million dollars in compensation, despite losing 35 years of his life.
12. The Man Who ‘Killed Two Teenagers’
Convicted of the murder of two teenagers in 1982, Anthony Porter was sentenced to death, and was exonerated a mere 50 hours away from execution. Identified as the killer by a number of witnesses, Porter was said to have robbed someone before the actual murder itself. However, when it was later revealed that Alstory Simon had actually been involved, Porter was subsequently released, after spending a lengthy 17 years on death row. Later suing the city of Chicago for $24 million dollars, the city refused to acknowledge that Porter was innocent. Shockingly the jury agreed, awarding Porter with nothing, and finding in favor of the city. Still receiving attention to this day, it has often been suggested that Porter was indeed the real killer, with Simon now the wrongfully convicted criminal, and Porter seemingly getting away with the murder of two innocent teenagers. Whatever the case, hopefully for the sake of the two teenagers involved, the real killer will be identified.
11. Robert Dewey
Charged with the rape and murder of a young girl, Robert Dewey spent a whopping 17 years in jail. Having previous convictions for armed robbery, Dewey was singled out, and was later linked to the victim’s roommate. Despite DNA proving his innocence, Dewey was sentenced to life in prison, appealing a number of times. Approaching the New York City innocence project, the organization had the DNA tested once more, later linked to that of another male, Douglas Thames Jr. Released, Dewey received a compensation package of just $1.2 million dollars, $100,000 for every year he was locked up behind bars. However, with no money ever able to make up for the fact that he had 17 years of his life so cruelly taken away from him, Dewey recently expressed his anger claiming, “yeah, I’m angry, but what good is that going to do?”
10. “Let Him Have It”
Hanged for the murder of a policeman in 1952, Derek William Bentley and 16-year-old Christopher Craig were involved in one of the biggest cases in British history. That’s right, attempting to burgle a warehouse on the outskirts of London, Craig had brought along a gun, which he then placed inside his pocket. With Craig then giving Bentley a knife and a spiked knuckle duster, the pair entered the establishment with intent to steal.
Seen by a nine-year-old girl, the police were called, and arrived to find the pair in action. Trying to escape, the boys fled, with Bentley caught by one of the officers. Breaking free, Craig pulled out the gun to which Bentley then screamed, “let him have it, Chris”, with Craig then shooting the police officer in the shoulder.
Surviving the incident, another officer was not so lucky, shot in the head by Craig upon his arrival. Both found guilty of murder, despite Bentley not using any of the weapons in question, the pair was sentenced to death. However, with Craig being under 18, his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment, with Bentley succumbing to the hangman a few months later.
After the execution, a number of protests were carried out, resulting in a long campaign to secure a posthumous pardon for Bentley. Finally granted a royal pardon, the murder was eventually quashed in 1998, with accomplice and the real killer Christopher Craig issuing a statement in support of the pardon itself.
9. Robert Blake The ‘Killer Movie Star’
American actor and alleged killer Robert Blake, was arrested for the murder of wife Bonnie Lee Bakley in 2001. Shot in the head while waiting in a parked car, Blake claimed that he had returned to the restaurant where they had previously eaten to collect a gun which he had left at the restaurant, stating that he had not been there when the murder actually took place. With the gun that Blake had in his possession later proven not to be the murder weapon, as well as a lack of DNA evidence, Blake was acquitted on all charges. Returning to his old life, Blake’s children filed a civil suit, insisting that their father was indeed responsible for their mother’s death. Finding Blake liable for the wrongful death of his wife, he was then ordered to pay $30 million dollars, later cut to $15 million dollars.
8. The Lake Waco Murders
Condemned to death for the murder of three teenagers, David Wayne Spence was executed in 1997. Dubbed the ‘Lake Waco murders’, three teenagers were found dead with numerous stab wounds, slashed throats, and evidence of sexual assault. After a lengthy investigation, Spence and three other accomplices were arrested. After a lack of evidence, and coerced confessions, the men were surprisingly found guilty, with Spence later sentenced to death. However, after it was later revealed that the evidence linking Spence to the murders was basically non existent, a number of people came forward stating that an alternate suspect, Terry Harper, was in fact the real killer. But, sadly too late to do anything about it, Spence was put to death by lethal injection.
7. The Trial Of The Century
One of the most famous cases in the history of law and order, the trial of OJ Simpson was dubbed the ‘The Trial of the Century’. Arrested for the murder of ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, as well as her friend and waiter Ron Goldman, the trial lasted for eleven months, and was subsequently screened all over the world.
Represented by the cream of the crop with regards to the lawyers he had work for him, Simpson’s team was later referred to as the ‘dream team’, headed by hot shot lawyer, Johnie Cochran. Going up against district attorneys Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden, the pair believed they had a strong case, with DNA evidence putting Simpson at the scene of the crime. However, despite an overwhelming amount of evidence, Simpson was found not guilty, much to the disdain of Clark, Darden and the general public. After the trial, the families of Brown and Goldman filed a civil lawsuit, much like the case of Robert Blake. Finding Simpson guilty, he was then ordered to pay $33.5 million dollars to the families of both victims.
6. ‘The Arson Attacker’
Convicted and later executed for the murder of his three children, Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of setting the family house on fire, intending to kill his children to cover up signs of abuse within the home. With the evidence including that of liquid accelerant, and unreliable witnesses, prosecutors claimed that Willingham had tried to kill the children twice before, kicking his wife in the stomach to cause a miscarriage. Labeling Willingham a serial abuser, prosecutors also claimed that he had abused animals and was a sociopath, despite a number of witnesses coming forward and claiming otherwise, including his own wife. Insisting his innocence throughout the trial, Willingham also rejected a number of plea bargains, some of which could have sparred him the death penalty. Executed in 2004, a number of questions with regards to the case have been discussed thoroughly, with a documentary on the trial released in 2011.
5. The Fugitive
Convicted for the murder of wife Marilyn Reese Sheppard in 1954, Samuel Sheppard became one of the most famous faces in the world due to the notoriety of the case itself. Bludgeoned to death in her bedroom in the early hours of the morning, the murder inspired hit movie, The Fugitive, which sees Harrison Ford undergo a similar predicament. Claiming to have been sleeping downstairs, Sheppard told authorities that he had been awoken by the noise, running upstairs to catch the attacker only to be knocked unconscious twice, and waking up in the lake.
Accused of murdering his wife, Sheppard was swiftly arrested, with it revealed that he had been having a three year affair with another woman, counting as motive for the killing. Extremely controversial, the case brought a huge amount of media attention, with the U.S. Supreme Court calling the trial, a ‘carnival atmosphere’. Found guilty, Sheppard was sentenced to life in prison, causing his mother to commit suicide. Released after just ten years, Sheppard later died due to alcohol poisoning. Insisting on clearing his father’s name, Samuel Reese Sheppard continued to rebuild his reputation, ordering a civil trial, resulting in a possible suspect. However, failing to prove that his father had been wrongfully imprisoned, Samuel Reese Sheppard still fights to prove his father’s innocence.
4. Sally Clark
One of the most heartbreaking on the list, the story of English solicitor Sally Clark has gone down in history as one of the most famous cases of wrongful imprisonment. Found guilty of the murder of her two sons, Clark’s first son died within a few weeks of his birth, with her second dying in similar circumstances. Claiming that both boys had died of sudden infant death syndrome, prosecutors stated that the likelihood of such an occurrence was extremely low. Convicted, Clark was found guilty, immediately appealing against the verdict. With evidence finally proving that she had not murdered her sons, Clark was released after serving more than three years of her sentence. However, with the trauma of losing both babies at such a young age, as well as being sent to prison for a crime she did not commit, Clark developed serious psychiatric problems, eventually dying in her home from alcohol poisoning.
3. ‘The 17-Year-Old Shooter’
Hailing from Texas, Ruben Cantu was executed for the murder and attempted murder of two men, along with his accomplice. Without a solid lead, authorities only had a rough description of two Latino males, as well as a report from a shop keeper who had told police that he had heard Cantu’s name being spoken off with regards to who committed the murder. However, with the victim who survived the attack, picking out Cantu as the shooter, police jumped on their man, quickly arresting the 17-year-old boy. Insisting he was innocent, Cantu wrote a note to the people of San Antonio claiming, “I have been framed in a capital murder case. I was framed because I shot an off duty police officer named Joe De La Luz.” An incident in which he was involved in after the original shooting. Now with regular claims that Cantu was indeed innocent, David Garza, who was the other boy involved, has since stated that Cantu wasn’t actually at the crime scene at all, and had in fact gone into the building with another boy all together.
2. The Yale Murderer
Growing up in poverty, Richard Herrin surprised everyone when he was accepted into Yale in 1971. Meeting future girlfriend Bonnie Garland at college, Herrin and Garland swiftly fell in love. Moving to Texas after graduating, the pair began a long distance relationship, resulting in Garland finding it too difficult and requesting that they split. Not happy with her decision, Herrin flew back to New York in order to change her mind. Still not budging, Garland was intent on the idea of breaking up, leading Herrin to bludgeon her to death with a hammer. Strangely receiving sympathy from a large part of the community, despite confessing to a priest, Herrin was found guilty of manslaughter, and served a measly 17 years. Suing him in civil court, a running theme here, Garland’s family was awarded $40,000, yet Herrin still managed to walk away free.
1. The Grisly Murders Of 10 Rillington Place
One of the saddest cases on the list, the story of Timothy Evans will pierce even the hardest of hearts. Accused of murdering his wife and their infant daughter in 1950, British born Evans was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. Laying the blame on downstairs neighbor John Christie, authorities somehow didn’t buy it, even with other witnesses claiming that Christie was a little on the strange side. However, three years after Evans was executed, Christie was in fact found to be a serial killer, who had murdered six other women in the notorious 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill. Confessing to the murder of Mrs. Evans and their daughter, Evans was finally and rightly granted a posthumous pardon. Playing a major part in the abolition of capital punishment in the UK, along with the Derek Bentley case, the death penalty was finally written out in 1965.