In 2015 Netflix dropped a show that would rock the nation titled Making a Murderer. In this show we followed the case of Steven Avery, a man who had been wrongfully convicted of murder not once, but the documentary suggested twice. As we watched in horror, the mini-series showed us just how corrupt our justice system could be. The documentary sheds light on the awful circumstances that people have to endure every day. Though the Avery case may seem like a crude phenomenon, the American legal system could be the deadliest killer of all. How many murderers have we seen on the nightly news, that we had no idea were later found to be innocent? The truth is, there are many wrongfully convicted people currently serving time behind bars right now.
This list will take us through the 15 most shocking wrongful convictions and leave us with the doubts we may have about our own legal system. Does everybody get a right to a fair trial? Will all the evidence be included in court? Not in these cases.
15 Randall Dale Adams
Randall Dale Adams was convicted of the murder of police officer Robert W. Wood. He was convicted on the basis that the other possible alleged shooter, David Ray Harris, would testify against him in exchange for immunity. Prior to the murder, Randall Adams left from his home in Ohio to California for a job on a construction site. When he went to the site, he returned home because no one showed up. On the way home he ran out of gas, this is where he would come into contact from David Ray Harris. Harris had stolen the car he was driving from a neighbor in a nearby town, the 16-year-old also had taken his father’s gun with him. Upon seeing Adams on the side of the road, he offered him a ride. They spent the day together and after leaving a drive-in movie were stopped by officer Woods for the stolen vehicle. As he approached the window he was shot 2 times by Harris.
14 James Joseph Richardson
On October 25th,1967 the 7 children of James Joseph Richardson were left in the care of their babysitter Bessie Reese. The 4 older children came home from school during lunch time to eat with the other children. They returned to school showing extremely concerning symptoms, they were immediately rushed to the hospital. 6 of the 7 children died that day, the other passing away the next day, they showed signs of poisoning. Their father was incarcerated shortly after and stood trial for their murder. The prosecution contended that their father had poisoned them through their food with a pesticide called phosphate parathion. He was convicted and sentenced to death. 21 years later he was acquitted after new prosecutors looked into the case. The prosecutors who had previously tried the case neglected evidence to suggest Richardson was innocent, including that their babysitter had been convicted of poisoning her ex-husband. Decades after the deaths, their babysitter Bessie Reese had confessed to the murders over 100 times in her nursing home, after being admitted for Alzheimer’s.
13 Dewey Bozella
Dewey Bozella, another African-American youth, was wrongfully convicted of the murder of 92-year-old Emma Crasper in 1977. Her Poughkeepsie, New York apartment was coated in blood splatter after the brutal attack. Police alleged that a then teenage Bozella, killed the elderly woman when she walked in on him committing a home invasion style burglary. There was never any evidence that substantiated exactly why police targeted Bozella. Bozella never confessed to his guilt, and was denied parole by a parole board 4 separate times while serving his 20 years to life prison sentence. However, after years in prison Bozella contacted the innocence project, upon looking into his case they found that the prosecution did not turn over exculpatory evidence that would have proved Bozella’s innocence. He was exonerated and let free after serving 26 years in prison.
12 Gregory Bright
Gregory Bright was arrested and convicted in 1975 for the second-degree-murder of Eliot Porter in New Orleans, Louisiana. He and his co-defendant Earl Truvia were convicted of the murder after an eyewitness said she saw the defendants walk around the corner with the victim and then return later without him while she was watching from her window. After nearly serving 30 years in prison they were exonerated. The exoneration was based on a re-investigation that suggested that the prosecution knowingly withheld names of other suspects from the defense. Even more shocking, during the trial it was dismissed that the relative time of the murder did not match the time of day that the eyewitness had accounted. It was also later discovered that the eyewitness was a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who had also been using heroin heavily. It was also later found that there was no line of vision to the spot the witness claimed she saw them at from her window.
11 Michael Lloyd Self
On January 3rd, 1972 the skeletonized remains of two missing women were found in a creek by locals who were fishing. They were identified as Rhonda Renee Johnson and Sharon Lynn Shaw. Michael Lloyd Self was indicted and convicted of the double homicide. However, suspicion of the validity of the conviction would arise in in 1998 when serial killer Edward Howard Bell would confess to the double homicide. It had also been discovered that Self was coerced into a false confession. At one point during Self’s alleged conviction he claims he dumped the bodies in a town called El Largo, over 20 miles from where the bodies were discovered. For the final time in 1993 Self had appealed for a new trial, it was denied and his appeals were exhausted. Following the denial of a new trial, Self died of cancer in 2000, he died in prison.
10 Lewis Fogle
During the summer of 1975 the body of a 15-year-old Kathy Long in Cherry Tree, Pennsylvania, she had abused and shot in the head. Lewis Fogle was arrested in 1981 for the homicide. The prosecution’s case had no physical evidence, but rather, was based on alleged jailhouse confessions made by Fogle. 4 men were arrested for the murder, including his brother, but only Fogle was brought to trial. He was convicted based on the testimony of 3 inmates who say they heard Fogle confess to the abuse and murder, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. After serving years in prison Fogle contacted the Innocence Project where his conviction would later be overturned. After spending 34 years in prison Fogle was released.
9 George Stinney
In 1944 the bodies of 11-year-old Betty June Binnicker and 8-year-old Emma Thames were found in a water filled ditch in Alcolu, South Carolina. The girls were beaten to death with some type of improvised weapon. The discovery of 2 little white girl’s bodies in a predominately black community, prompted a witch hunt in an extremely racist South Carolina. It’s said that as the girls rode their bikes, they passed the Stinney residence and reportedly asked George and his sister if they knew where to find a certain flower. Upon further investigation, a white woman came forward to say the day before the murders George had threatened to kill her and her friend, in today’s world this claim could never be substantiated. However, the officers arrested Stinney anyway, when they appeared in court, they said George confessed to the crime. There is no record of this confession. George was convicted in 10 minutes and at age 14, was the youngest person to ever be executed. He was exonerated posthumously in 2014.
8 Delbert Tibbs
In 1974 Delbert Tibbs was hitchhiking across Florida, completely unaware that he was soon to be indicted for murder. Near Fort Myers, Florida a 27-year-old male was murdered, with a gunshot wound to the head. His girlfriend contacted police to tell them that they had been hitchhiking when an African American male offered them a ride. The car ride soon turned sinister, the victim’s girlfriend explaining that the man shot her boyfriend in the head and then proceeded to assault and beat her. 220 miles north of the crime scene Delbert Tibbs was stopped by the police and questioned about the attack and murder, he claimed he knew nothing about the crimes, they let him go also on the grounds that he didn’t match the description given to police by the victim. However, they took a photo anyway. When they sent the photo back to Fort Meyers, the victim identified Tibbs as the perpetrator. The prosecution made their case with an alleged jailhouse confession overheard by another inmate. However, the inmate recanted after Tibbs’ conviction. A few years later Tibbs was exonerated.
7 Clarence Lee Brandley
The body of Cheryl Dee Ferguson was found in a room above the auditorium at Bellville High School in Conroe, Texas where she was a 16-year-old volleyball player. Clarence Lee Bradley was a janitor at the school, he discovered the body along with another janitor. Brandley and his coworker were immediate suspects, however, according to the other janitor, the detective conducting the interview told Brandley “you’re going to have to go down for this”. His coworkers alleged they could not account for his whereabouts for at least 45 minutes and that he was the only one who had keys to the auditorium that led to the girl’s body. The first time Brandley was tried, he was given a mistrial due to a hung jury. However, he was tried again in 1981 and this time was convicted and sentenced to death. The prosecution called a medical examiner to testify that one of Brandley’s belts matched the ligature strangulation marks on the victim, when it was later investigated the prosecution was hiding photos of Brandley taken the day of the murder that showed he was not wearing the belt. Brandley was released after spending 9 years in prison.
6 Earl Washington Jr.
On a summer day in 1982, a young mother of 3 was found in her apartment, she had been abused and stabbed 38 times. Clinging to life, the only information that she could give detectives was that the man was African American, and that he acted alone, she died from her injuries shortly after. Months later, Washington was arrested on a different charge. However, during the course of a 48 hour questioning detectives said Washington confessed to 5 separate other crimes, including the death of young mother Rebecca Lynn Williams. 4 confessions were thrown out because the details of the confession did not match the details of the crimes. Even though there were inconsistencies in his confession to the murder as well, after the 4th attempt to confess detectives finally had a confession they were happy with. Washington’s IQ was a reported 69 at the time, psychologists found in order to supplement for his disability he would agree unanimously with any authority figure. He was convicted and sentenced to death. Years later, the innocence project would reexamine his case finding his DNA did not match the seminal fluid found on the body, he was later exonerated.
5 Juan Rivera
On August 17th, 1992 the body of 11-year-old Holly Staker was found in her home, she was partially clothed and had been stabbed as well as strangled, she was also abused. Juan Rivera became entangled in police crosshairs when a jailhouse informant claimed Rivera was the one who committed the murder, claiming that he was at a party that night near the crime scene. No physical evidence ever linked Rivera to the crime, his DNA was even tested against the fluid found on the body and it was not a match. The prosecution maintained that the 11-year-old girl had obtained the foreign semen through another sexual encounter prior, that was completely consensual. His fingerprints also did not match the fingerprints found at the crime scene, Rivera was also wearing an ankle monitor from a previous crime showing that he did not leave his house that night. Rivera was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, though his conviction had been overturned 2 times prior, the 3rd and final overturning in 2011 eventually exonerated him for good after 19 years in prison.
4 Scottsboro Boys
The case of the Scottsboro boys, dating all the way back to March of 1931 in Alabama is often regarded as a shining example of a racist miscarriage of judgement. On March 25th, 1931 it is reported that over 20 young boys had jumped on a train, some of them African-American, some of them Caucasian. The young white boys attempted to push and bully the African-American passengers off the train claiming it was a white train, when they were unsuccessful they were in fact pushed off the train by the African-American children. The white children then went to law enforcement and claimed they had been attacked by a group of black children. The train was stopped on its route and investigated. During this investigation, 2 white women claimed that the group of boys also abused them. The boys were indicted, represented poorly and all sentenced to death. Years later, the women admitted that they had fabricated the allegations. However, 7 of the defendants served time in prison for the crimes, only to be exonerated decades later.
3 Ford Heights Four
On May 11th, 1978 a gas station attendant named Lawrence Lionberg and his fiancée Carol Schmal were kidnapped, Schmal had been assaulted several times and they were later both killed with a gunshot wound to the back of the head. The 4 black defendants that were referred to as the Ford Heights Four were Verneal Jimerson, Dennis Williams, Kenneth Adams and Willie Rainge. A witness named Charles, McCraney claimed to have seen 3 of the 4 defendants near the crime scene at the time of the kidnapping in Ford Heights, Chicago. Even though all 4 men had alibis, and witnesses that could attest to their whereabouts they were indicted and charged with the crime following a jailhouse informant’s testimony that named 2 of the defendants. During trial, another witness claimed she saw the 4 men shoot Lionberg and assault Schmal, she had a standing IQ of 55. Upon later independent investigation, a witness named Marvin Simpson told police he had actually seen 4 other men commit the crime. They were exonerated nearly 20 years later in 1996.
2 The River Park Terror
In 1996 South Bend, Indiana was the hunting ground for a malevolent predator the press deemed the River Park Rapist. The series of these brutal attacks triggered a statewide fear. He was arrested in connection to the crimes because a victim, identified Richard Alexander as the perpetrator. However, following his arrest in 1996 the violent attacks continued. However, they were not regarded as River Park cases, due to Alexander’s imprisonment. In one instance, the victim identified Alexander as the perpetrator in her case, even though he was already in prison in connection with the River Park case. It was later found that his photo had been accidentally slipped into the photo lineup for the victim. However, in 2001 after comparing the DNA from the crime scene to the mitochondrial DNA of Alexander, it was not a match. Alexander was later exonerated. Following his exoneration a man named Michael Murphy confessed to one of the attacks providing details that only could have been known had he been present.
1 The Central Park Five
Finally, one of the most notorious cases of wrongful conviction, though it is still disputed today is that of the boys who were deemed the Central Park 5. On the night of April 19th, 1989 a group of about 30 teenage assailants committed a slew of various crimes that night, including robbery and the attack of other victims in Central Park, New York. That night a jogger named Trisha Meili was found naked, tied up and gagged covered in mud and blood in Central Park by an officer, she was taken to the hospital where she would be in a coma for nearly 2 weeks due to her injuries. Police arrested teenagers Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson in the park that night. They would later arrest Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam and Korey Wise in connection with the other 2 for the brutal attack. All 5 confessed to being accessories to the attack, all implicating the other 4 but none ever claimed personal responsibility for the attack. These confessions were later retracted, due to coercion and intimidation. In 2001, a convicted rapist and murderer named Matias Reyes confessed to the crime, saying he was the sole perpetrator, his DNA matched the DNA on the victim.