When you’re innocent and convicted of a crime, you have to rely on the legal system to realize that you didn’t do it within a reasonable time frame. But we’re not here to talk about that; we’re here to talk about people who were pardoned for their crimes long after it mattered. Like, “after death” long. People like …
10. Leo Frank
Born in 1884 and hung by a lynch mob in 1915, Leo Frank’s death drew attention to the rampant antisemitism across the US at the time he was alive. Then again, Leo’s defense rested on accusing a black man of lying purely based on his race, so no one here was really perfect.
Leo was convicted of strangling a young girl who worked in his factory, due to the fact Leo was the last known person to see her alive, and because he’d been “supposedly” flirting with her. We should point out this girl was 13 at the time of her death. Rather than letting justice run its course, both sides resorted to racial stereotyping.
Fearing that justice wouldn’t be done, a group (which included freaking governors) broke into the prison Leo was being house in, drove him into the woods and hung him until he was dead. But it’s okay, because the government totally admitted some culpability in his death, 70 years later.
In that time, reams of evidence were discovered that Jim Conley (the black janitor Leo’s legal team accused, though not in the best way) was somehow involved due to him giving contradictory statements, and an eyewitness who said Conley would kill him if he squealed.
9. Timothy Cole
Timothy Cole was a young man arrested on a rape charge. Though Cole had a pretty good alibi, mainly that he was a military veteran with an exemplary record, his prosecutors had an ace up their sleeve: Cole was black and in Texas. Because the victim thought her attacker was kind of dark-looking, Cole was a perfect fit.
While in prison Cole, vehemently denied any wrongdoing. Even the victim herself admitted she was wrong, and actually joined Cole’s family trying to prove his innocence. However, it took the actual criminal stepping forward and admitting to the crime for the government to eventually pardon Cole in 2009. Which we’re sure he would have loved, if he hadn’t already died in prison, ten years prior.
But here’s the real sad part: the actual rapist had been trying to contact Cole to clear his name since 1995! Cole’s family only discovered this in 2007, when a letter written by the rapist turned up on their door. This means Cole could have been a free man four years before he died, but instead served a literal life in prison for absolutely nothing.
8. Patrick “Giuseppe” Conlon
Patrick Conlon was a man who immediately dropped everything in his life to travel to Belfast and help his son, after he was convicted of taking part in IRA bombings. Conlon, despite being severely ill and not in the country at the time, was thrown in jail with six other people, one of which was only 14 years old at the time.
But here’s the harsh part, everyone involved as eventually released, pardoned, and given a stack of cash when it was finally discovered they were innocent. Everyone except Patrick, who died in prison before his name could be cleared. His only crime was caring about his son.
7. The Salem Witch Trials Victims
The Salem Witch Trials are one of those things that make you wish you could travel back in time and deliver a series of mouth slaps to everyone involved for being so stupid. Not for believing in magic, since that’s a perfectly reasonable belief that people believe even today. No, you want to slap them for being stupid enough to believe that people with magic powers would allow themselves to be caught, tortured, and then executed without making a single person’s head explode in retribution.
Now, you’d think that looking back at all this with modern eyes, it would be a simple matter of saying “merp, we messed up; we’d like to clear all these people’s names.” Apparently though, it wasn’t. The court of Massachusetts initially only cleared one person’s name, referring to everyone else as “other persons.”
Of course people pointed out that this was bullcrap, since “other persons” could refer to anyone, and it didn’t clear anyone’s name, which is important when you’re trying to avoid angry wizard ghosts. Annoyingly, it took three more revisions, and over 300 years, just for Massachusetts to admit that no, wizards weren’t real. Kids today realize that the second they turn 11, and no owl flies into their bedroom with an invitation to Hogwarts.
6. Derek Bentley
Derek William Bentley was complicit in the murder of a policeman back in 1952. To give you a brief rundown, Bentley and an accomplice were robbing the crap out of an English house with his friend, Christopher Craig. At the time of this robbery, Bentley was 19.
When the pair were noticed, a policeman bravely climbed a drainpipe to arrest them. Allegedly, Bentley yelled to Craig “let him have it,” at which point he shot the officer. The officer shrugged off the shot and climbed onto the roof and began to tussle with the pair. In the ensuing melee, another officer was shot and killed.
Though the identity of the person who fired the fatal shot was never discovered, Bentley was sentenced to death by hanging, just in case. Since Craig wasn’t 18 yet, he was instead given life in prison. Bentley’s young age made a lot of people a little uneasy about his hanging, and a number of people embarked on a literal life long quest to have his name cleared.
This quest was taken on by his parents, until they died in 1970, after which Bentley’s sister continued the campaign, until 1997, when she herself died of cancer. A year later, a year after his last remaining family members had died, Bentley’s murder conviction was quashed.
5. Joan of Arc
When Joan of Arc was arrested, almost raped by an English Lord in prison, sentenced to death, and then burnt at the stake, all by the tender age of 19, the world was a lightly darker place for a while. But don’t worry, it only took them another 20 years to realize their mistake!
If the church had simply held up its hands and said, “yeah, we messed up, sorry,” it’d be okay. But noooo, that would’ve been too easy. They actually went to the effort of giving Joan a retrial, in which Joan’s own mother had to sit there while the people who killed her daughter to death tried to justify murdering a teenager for little more than wearing boy clothes.
4. Alfred Jodl
Though Jodl was inarguably a very nasty man, the Allies still managed to give him a raw deal. The charges levied against him were massive, and Jodl was adamant that they weren’t true. Regardless, he was convicted of everything, and hung in 1946. Later on, as you probably know since you’re reading this article, he was found innocent (as innocent as a Nazi could be, anyhow,) and fully pardoned.
But here’s the kicker: Jodl’s pardon only took eight years to come through. Just read through some of the other entries here; completely innocent, decent people weren’t cleared for decades, sometimes even centuries, while a Nazi got a pardon in eight years. A Nazi!
3. Timothy Evans
Timothy Evans was convicted of murdering his wife and daughter, despite the fact Evans had no idea he even had a daughter, since his downstairs neighbor, John Christie, had offered to give his wife an abortion, which was illegal in the UK at the time.
If the previous statement didn’t alert you to the fact that Christie was insane, then know that after Evans’ execution, he was found to be a serial killer. You may think, “surely the police couldn’t have known that?” Well, while they were questioning Evans, he told them that Christie was the murderer. Searching the home, they discovered bodily remains that weren’t from Evans’ wife or daughter. The police, presumably thinking this was just a wacky coincidence, ignored this and arrested Evans instead, even forcing him to make a false confession, because going after a creepy, abortion-offering neighbor hoarding unexplained body parts sure sounds like a lot of hard work.
Three years after Evans was executed, Christie – who couldn’t look more like a serial killer – was found to be a serial killer. Evans was then granted a posthumous pardon. His lasting legacy was his contribution to the death penalty being abolished in Britain.
2. Jamie MacPherson
Jamie MacPherson was a 17th century Scottish outlaw, and talented fiddle player. Why bring up the fact he was a fiddle player, you ask? Well, that’s because McPherson immortalized his injustice in a song we have come to know as MacPherson’s Lament.
The story goes that, in 1700, Jamie was pardoned for his crimes mere minutes after being hung. This would be tragic enough if it wasn’t for the fact that the hangman intentionally set the clock forward 15 minutes, to ensure a hanging would happen, and that no pesky politicians could get in the way. If Jamie isn’t haunting the ever-loving crap out of that town, then there’s no justice in the after-world.
1. Alan Turing
Alan Turing is the person on this list who we know was actually guilty of the crime the courts convicted him for. The thing is, the crime was stupid as hell; Turing, a skilled WWII codebreaker who expertly cracked the Enigma code, was arrested and convicted of “gross indecency,” because he was openly gay. He openly admitted to this, since it wasn’t like he was running around naked and screaming “LOOKIT ME GAY WEENIE, LOOK AT IT!” He was simply an openly gay man, something he rightly believed wasn’t a freaking crime.
While Turing wasn’t executed for his “crime,” he might as well have been. Stripped of his will to live post-conviction, Turing committed suicide in 1954, by swallowing cyanide pills. He wasn’t pardoned until July of 2013, which you might recognize as basically yesterday. And here’s the really annoying part: the literal definition of a pardon is “the forgiveness of a crime.” Granting Turing a pardon was like looking back in time and saying, “we forgive you for being gay, Alan.” Which, come on, ain’t cool.