15 People Who Were Wrongfully Convicted Of Terrible Crimes

It's a frustrating thing when someone accuses you of something that you didn't do. When people have it in their heads that you're guilty of a lie or a crime, no matter how big or small, it can get under your skin as you do everything possible to prove that you're innocent.

This is especially terrifying when you're in trouble with the law. There's nothing like a team of police officers and detectives that are convinced you're responsible for a heinous crime. Stories such as these happen every day, innocent people being pinned as being rapists or murderers. They're arrested, intensely interrogated, and lied to by police until they break down, and many sign false confessions. They find themselves going from the right to the wrong side of the law within a few days, and law abiding citizens are labeled as criminals.

These 15 people, some of which spent 20 to 30 years in prison, know exactly what being locked up after being wrongfully convicted feels like. The media labeled them as ruthless killers and they've lived under that reputation for a good portion of their lives. The lucky ones eventually taste freedom once again; however, some die in prison and can only be posthumously declared innocent to help their families rebuild their wrongfully besmirched reputations.


15 Three Siblings Die Years Apart; Mother Is Arrested

In cases where there is a mysterious death of a child, authorities immediately begin suspecting at least one of the parents as the person or persons responsible. When there are two children that die, police pretty much assume that there's something fishy going on. Angela Cannings mourned the deaths of not two, but three, of her children, and because they were all infants when they died, investigators began to believe that she was murdering her babies. In 1989, her first child, 13-week-old Gemma, died from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; in 1991 her second child, seven-week-old Jason, also passed away; and in 1999 her third baby, 18-week-old Matthew, also suddenly died. During her trial, prosecutors alleged that Angela had smothered her children, and in 2002 she was convicted. However, a BBC documentary about her case revealed that both her mother and grandmother lost multiple children to SIDS, and the crib deaths were likely a result of a genetic disorder. She spent a year in jail before her conviction was overturned.

14 Girl Accuses Friend Of R----g Her To Hide Promiscuous Activities From Her Mother


He went to play in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons in 2013, but back in 2002, football player Brian Banks was just an average student at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. However, the high school football star's life changed when a fellow student, Wanetta Gibson, accused him of rape. He was looking at serving some serious time, so he was advised by his lawyers to take a plea deal under which he would serve five years in prison, have five years probation, and have to register as a sex offender. The girl and her mother even sued the school district claiming that the school was an unsafe environment and won a $1.5-million settlement. Almost a decade late, Wanetta contacted Brian on Facebook asking to meet up with him. He recorded their conversation where she admitted to lying about their consensual sex because she didn't want her mother to know she was sexually active.

The school district later sued Wanetta's mother for the return of the huge settlement.

13 Man Spent 21 Years In Prison After His Seven Children Were Poisoned To Death

At 77 years old, James Joseph Richardson returned to his hometown of Arcadia to face a past that was filled with awful memories. In 1967, James and his wife left home for work as fruit pickers. The wife had asked their friend and neighbor, Betsy Reese, to serve their seven children lunch if she could. She did.

The children, six boys and a girl aged 2 to 11, returned to school after the meal. Soon, they fell terribly ill, foaming at the mouth and shaking. Every one of the children died, and the medical examiner said they were given a powerful insecticide. Police searched for evidence at the family's home but found none; however, they didn't think that James was mourning the deaths as a father should. He was arrested, and it didn't take long for jailhouse informants to tell authorities that James had confessed to them in prison. They later recanted, and it was found that prosecutors had suppressed evidence.

Betsy's first husband died mysteriously after eating a meal she had prepared, and she also shot and killed her second husband. Detectives say she poisoned the children because her second husband had left her for one of James's cousins.

James was released from prison in 1989 and died in 1992.

12 Nine Years In Prison For A Crime He Didn't Commit


When Davontae Sanford was freed from jail last year, it was the first time he'd been outside of prison walls since he was a teenager. In the Fall of 2007, police stumbled upon a gruesome crime scene in a drug house in Detroit, Michigan. Four people had been brutally murdered, and when police arrived at the home, they saw 14-year-old Davontae, a developmentally disabled neighbor who was also blind in one eye, standing outside in his pajamas. They believed he was either involved or at least witnessed the crime, so they took him to the station and interrogated him for two days until he confessed. It took nearly a decade for investigators to find the real killer: a hitman who was already in prison for unrelated murders. He confessed to the killings and said he didn't even know who Davontae was.

11 Father Confesses To Murdering Infant Son

In 2008, Adrian Thomas and his partner Wilhelmina Hicks found their four-month-old son Matthew laying in his crib unresponsive. When he was taken to the hospital, doctors told police that they believed Matthew died of septic shock, but investigators thought there was foul play involved. Another physician told police that Matthew also had a skull fracture. They took Adrian in for questioning, and ten hours into the interrogation, they told the father that his son would recover if Adrian would tell them what really happened to Matthew. They were actually lying because Matthew had already died. Detectives also told Adrian that the infant's injuries were consistent with abuse, and Adrian made a confession that he had slammed the baby down on the mattress. Adrian spent six years in prison until he was granted a retrial, and new doctors investigating the case told a jury that there were no injuries to Matthew, but he did have a severe bacterial infection that was indeed sepsis. Adrian was released in 2014.

10 Mark Maxson


The last time anyone saw six-year-old Lindsay Murdoch, he was sitting on his grandmother's front porch eating Tootsie Rolls. He was given a dollar and was told to go buy candy at the corner store after which he made his way back home. Lindsay went missing for 24 hours, and the next day, his little body was found dead. He had also been sexually assaulted.

Police questioned Mark Maxson, a local handyman known to the neighborhood. Hoping to help, Mark told police that he saw Lindsay at the store, bought him a bag of potato chips, and told him to rush home because it was late. He was beaten until he made a confession, police saying that Mark had admitted to them that he had taken cocaine before raping and stabbing the boy. There was no evidence linking Mark to the crime, but he was convicted and sentenced to life plus 40 years. Mark spent 22 years in prison before DNA evidence proved that a man named Oscar Wade, who later confessed, was responsible.

9 Spent Nine Months On Death Row For Murdering His Parents

It's difficult for a child to process the death of a parent. When Gary Gauger found his 75-year-old father, Morris, dead in his home in 1993, he was understandably devastated. He called 911, and when police arrived and searched the property, they came across the body of Gary's mother, 70-year-old Ruth. Gary told investigators that he had no idea what had happened to his parents and that he had been asleep. He was interrogated for 21 hours and was told that bloody clothing was found in his room, implicating him in the crime. They suggested that maybe he had gotten terribly drunk and killed his parents. He would confess even though there wasn't any physical evidence against him. He was sentenced to death and spent two years in prison before he was transferred to death row. In 2002, Gary was pardoned after two members of a motorcycle gang confessed to the brutal killings. They were later convicted.


8 The 'Central Park Five' Were Innocent


In 1989, Trisha Meili was jogging in New York City's Central Park when she was viciously attacked. She was stripped naked, beaten, stabbed, raped, and left for dead. The assault was so severe that Trisha was in a coma for 12 days. Police were convinced that the assault was done by a group of teenagers, a crime referred to as "wilding." On the evening of Trisha's attack, 30 or so teens were terrorizing neighborhoods by throwing rocks and beating up strangers. Police picked up five boys: Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam. They were all teens who were interviewed without a guardian present, and over time, they all pointed the finger at one another for the crime. It wasn't until 2002 when Matias Reyes, a man who was a teenager in 1989, confessed to attacking Trisha. His DNA linked him to the case. He was already serving life in prison for being a serial rapist and murderer. How many other people could have been saved from Reyes had the police done their jobs correctly?

7 R--e Victim Chose Him Out Of A Lineup And He Later Died In Prison

Michele Mallin was sitting in her car in a church parking lot across her dorm in the Spring of 1985. She told police that a black man approached her car and asked if she had jumper cables because he was having car trouble. She let him know she didn't have any, but in a flash, he reached through the window, unlocked her door, and proceeded to rape her in her car. During the time of the attack, Tim Cole was a 26-year-old Texas Tech student who was studying at his brother's house before playing cards with his family.

Two weeks after the crime, Tim was at a pizza restaurant near where Michele was attacked and spoke with a detective outside. They began to view him as a suspect and took a Polaroid of him. The victim picked his photo out of a lineup. He was sentenced to 25 years. Tim served 23 and then died in prison. DNA evidence later found that a man named Jerry Wayne Johnson was the one who had raped Michele, and Tim was posthumously exonerated. Tragically, Johnson could not be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.

6 Making A Murderer's First Wrongful Conviction


If you don't know who Steven Avery is, you must be living under a rock. The Netflix documentary Making A Murderer was primarily about his conviction over the 2005 murder of Teresa Halbach. The series garnered much attention for Steven Avery and had legal experts taking another good, hard look at his case, but before he began serving life without parole for that crime, he was found guilty of raping Penny Beerntsen in 1985 and sentenced to up to 32 years in prison.

Penny was jogging along the beach when she was grabbed and sexually assaulted. When shown photos of possible suspects, including Steven who was known to police over his petty crimes, Penny picked his photo as her attacker. Steven told police he was 40 miles away, an alibi that was confirmed. Hair and DNA weren't tested at the time, and it wasn't until 18 years later that testing proved that a man named Gregory Allen was responsible. Avery was released in 2003.

5 Four Victims Identified Him As Their R-----t But DNA Proved Otherwise

Thomas Haynesworth sat in a prison cell for 27 years before he heard the words he'd been waiting for. For nearly three decades, he professed his innocence, but no one believed him. In 1984, four white women were assaulted and raped, many at knife point. They were all within a one-mile radius of each other, and at the time, Thomas was an 18-year-old resident of the area. He fit the description of the serial rapist, and when Thomas was walking down the street, one of the victims saw him and identified him as her attacker. After the other three women saw his photo, they, too, said Thomas had raped them as well. He was sentenced to 74 years in prison but the rapes kept occurring. Police picked up a man named Leon Davis, and he was tried and convicted of multiple rapes. He was sentenced to life. Later, DNA tests proved Davis was responsible for the initial four attacks, and in 2011, Thomas was exonerated.

4 Longest-serving Inmate To Be Exonerated In North Carolina


Joseph Sledge has gone down in history as serving one of the longest wrongful conviction sentences. In 1976, Joseph was serving out a four-year sentence for misdemeanor larceny when he broke out of prison. He was arrested the next day, but during the time that he was free, two women were found stabbed and murdered in their home. Two other inmates testified that Joseph had admitted to committing the crime; however, one would later recant his story. He claimed police had offered him $3,000 and early parole. Joseph received two life sentences. His lawyers wanted to test the mitochondrial DNA in evidence, but it went missing. It wasn't until 2012 that it resurfaced and after testing, didn't match Joseph. After serving 36 years in prison for the double murder, he was finally declared innocent in 2015 and set free.

3 Young Victim Says Perpetrator "Looks Like Uncle Clarence"

Six-year-old Brooke was staying at her grandmother's house in Ohio in 1998. That evening, they were both savagely assaulted and raped; however, 58-year-old Judith was also strangled to death. When police asked little Brooke who attacked her and her grandmother, she told them that the perpetrator "looked liked Uncle Clarence." Judith was Clarence Elkins' mother-in-law, and Brooke was his niece. While Brooke meant that the man resembled her uncle, investigators took it as the girl saying Clarence was the attacker. Clarence had a solid alibi, and there was no physical evidence connecting him to the crimes, but he was convicted and sentenced to two life terms. While Clarence was behind bars, he and his wife began their own investigation and were determined to have the DNA from the crime scene retested. It excluded Clarence, and a private investigator discovered that Clarence's next door neighbor, Earl Mann, was a convicted sex offender. His DNA matched the crime scene, but he was already in prison. Clarence was released in 2005.

2 Daughter Accuses Father Of R--e Because She Wanted Him To "Go Away"


It's bad enough if you're falsely accused of raping someone, but when it's your own daughter making the false accusation, there's an extra twist of the knife. Back in 2001, 11-year-old Cassandra Ann Kennedy told police that her father, Thomas Kennedy, had raped her. Thomas and Cassandra's mother had been divorced for 10 years, and during that time, the children would spend some weekends with their father. Cassandra said Thomas had raped her on at least three separate occasions and when she was examined by a doctor, they found trauma to her genitals. Thomas was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In 2012, Cassandra came forward to say that she had lied about her father raping her. At her father's second trial, she testified that she had begun having sex when she was just seven years old. Her sexual partner was another boy (who confirmed this as an adult) from her class. Because Thomas would drink and smoke weed, Cassandra wanted him to "go away," so when she learned about the child sex crimes after a friend's stepfather had been arrested, she made up the story about her father. Thomas was exonerated in 2012.

1 Convicted In Three Trials Even Though DNA Excluded Him From Being The Killer

It was late summer of 1992 when 11-year-old Holly Staker was babysitting two young kids in Illinois. The night turned sinister when someone broke in and raped and murdered Holly. An informant tipped off police and pointed them in the direction of 19-year-old Juan Rivera, a student with special education needs. Detectives questioned Juan for four long days, and by the end, the teenager broke down crying. When he was asked if he had killed Holly, he nodded. Police typed up his confession and had him sign it even though jail staff believed he was going through a psychotic episode. Juan was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. In 2005 DNA was retested and Juan was excluded from being the killer. A judge vacated his sentence but prosecutors pressed for a third trial in the case in Juan, once again, was convicted. It wasn't until 2012 when Juan was released after 20 years in prison.

Sources: Wikipedia, NBC News, NRE

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