Most of us have a reasonable amount of faith in our justice systems, and few of us live in fear of being thrown in jail over nothing. But the reality is, no matter where you live, this sometimes happens to completely innocent people. From corrupt police to lying victims, miscarriages of justice are all too common. The stories below should make us all reflect, not only on how the system runs, but also on how we punish those we think are guilty.
10. Jeff Deskovic
In 1990, 17-year-old Jeff Deskovic was arrested for the rape and murder of a girl in his school. He was taken in for questioning, and willingly agreed to take a lie detector test. However, the officers conducting the test manipulated the situation. They asked loaded questions, he was not provided a lawyer, and they revealed private information that he would repeat later, thereby appearing to incriminate himself.
After 7 hours of interrogation, Deskovic confessed to the crimes, despite being innocent. Not only was Deskovic coaxed into giving a false confession, forensic investigators in the case also provided evidence that wrongly convicted him. When a semen sample from the victim underwent testing at the time, it was found to be from another man. The theory that was given (and accepted) to explain this was that Deskovic had raped the victim after she had had consensual sex with another man.
With help from the Innocence Project, a charity aimed at helping people like Deskovic, he was released after the semen sample was found to have come from another convict. According to the Innocence Project, innocent people have made false confessions in about 25% of their successful cases. There are a number of reasons that people confess to a crime they did not commit, such as hope for a lesser sentence or just plain being threatened.
Deskovic was 33 when he was freed, having served 16 years. But even then, he had few friends or family members, no idea how modern society functioned, and had no way to get a job. It took four years for him to get compensated for his wrongful conviction, when he received $6.5 million. He went on to get a college degree and set up the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, to help others like him.
9. William Lopez
William Lopez was arrested for the murder of a drug dealer, Elvirn Surria, in 1989. Surria had been shot with a shotgun that was never located, leaving only two eyewitnesses to testify. The first described the shooter as a black man over 6 feet tall, while Lopez is a shorter, white man. The second woman, on the other hand, positively identified Lopez as the culprit. Lopez, whose daughter was 14 months old at the time, spent the next 23 years in prison, until Jeff Deskovic stepped in to help. It was soon discovered that the woman who identified Lopez as the killer had struck a deal with the district attorney to identify him in order to reduce the drug charges against her. A new witness was found, now living in the Dominican Republic, and appeared in court to clear Lopez’s name.
The Jeff Deskovic foundation is currently helping Lopez make the move back into normal society, while the office of the district attorney is planning to bring the case back to trial, because part of the job description there is to never ever admit you’re wrong, ever.
8. Jonathan Montgomery
In 2007, 20-year-old Jonathan Montgomery was arrested for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl when he was 14. He was sentenced to 7.5 years in the Greensville Correctional Center for the crime, and served four of those years before he was released.
As it turns out, no sexual assault had taken place at all. Elizabeth Paige Coast, the alleged victim of the assault, came clean in 2012 and admitted that she had fabricated the story because her parents had caught her watching porn. In order to avoid getting in trouble, she told them she had been abused by Montgomery, a former neighbor of theirs who had since moved to away. Coast assumed that this meant she could blame him without him ever being found. But he was found, found guilty, and spent the first half of his 20’s behind bars.
Although his immediate release was ordered, this was delayed by legal bureaucracy until the Governor himself pardoned Montgomery, at which point he was released from jail. Elizabeth Coast was fired from the police department she was working at when she admitted her lie, and ultimately found guilty of perjury.
7. Andre Davis
Andre Davis was 19 when, in 1980, he was accused of the rape and murder of 3-year-old Brianna Stickle, who went missing on August 8th of that year. Her stepfather searched every house in the neighborhood for her, bar the one right next door because the man who owned it, Maurice Tucker, was not home. Later in the day however, another neighbor, Donald Douroux, let them into the house where they found Brianna’s body. Douroux, who had grown up with Tucker, instantly accused Davis of the murder.
Tucker claimed that he had been drinking with Davis on the day in question, and that Davis had been wearing jeans. When Davis was arrested, he was wearing red pants, and a pair of jeans were found at the scene of the crime, which Tucker said belonged to Davis. However, all other witnesses reported that Davis had been wearing red pants all day. Apparently, the police never considered that the reason Tucker knew about the jeans was not because he had seen Davis wearing them, but because he himself had worn them.
One police officer that interrogated Davis claimed that he said he may have killed the child, but there was absolutely no evidence of this. A doctor who examined Davis also claimed to have found evidence suggesting he was guilty, but this was later debunked. Hair samples at the crime even suggested that Douroux had been involved. Despite the evidence pointing to Doroux and Tucker as the culprits, Davis was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. He served 32 years, much of it in the notorious Tamm’s Correctional Centre, where he would usually be left in in solitary confinement.
Then in 2004, things changed. He applied for DNA testing, which found semen linking Tucker and another unidentified male to the crime. Davis was released, but not right away. It took a full eight years after this new evidence until he was exonerated, aged 52. In order to treat Davis badly one last time, no officials informed his family of his release, and so nobody was there to collect him when he got out. Worse yet, despite the fact that he had lied about Davis’s clothing, that the girl had been found in his house, and that it was his semen found there, Tucker was never arrested.
6. Daniel Larsen
In 1998, Daniel Larsen was accused of wielding a hidden knife during a bar fight, and stashing it under a car before police arrived. The following year, two officers testified that they saw Larsen throw the knife under the car. He already had two serious convictions, so under California’s three strike law, he was sentenced to 27 years in prison.
Ten years later, the Innocence Project, which also helped the aforementioned Jeff Deskovic, found a retired police chief and number of other witnesses to testify that it was a different man who threw the knife. These witnesses were known at the time of the first trial, but were not called upon for reasons that remain unclear. With this new evidence, a judge ruled that Larsen was in fact innocent, and should be released. Despite this, he was not released, because his legal team had applied for a habeus corpus too late. This led to a petition that gained 90,000 signatures, and the 45-year-old Larsen was finally released in 2013, having spent 13 years in prison.
5. David Bryant
18-year-old David Bryant was arrested in 1975 after the body of 8-year-old Karen Smith was found. He was accused of sexually assaulting and murdering the young girl, who was a family friend of Bryant’s. He spent the next 38 years in prison, during which time he was attacked a number of times for his alleged crimes, once barely surviving a stab wound. Both his parents died while he was in prison, meaning that not only did they never get to see their only child cleared of such heinous accusations, but Bryant knew absolutely nobody upon his release.
It is only because of the Centurion Ministries organization that Bryant ever had his name cleared. They claimed that his lawyer did not properly defend him and, when DNA tests were done of samples from the crime, Bryant was not a match. He was released in 2013, aged 56. As an example of what years behind bars can cause someone to miss: on his first night after release, he decided to watch TV because he couldn’t sleep. He came across the old TV show “Knight Rider,” and was completely blown away.
4. Daryl Kelly
In 1997, Daryl Kelly was arrested for molesting his 9-year-old daughter, Chaneya. However, Daryl was completely innocent; Chaneya was forced to make the false accusations by her mother, Charade, who told her daughter that if she didn’t, she would be beaten. Years later, Charade would blame her actions on drugs.
The only “evidence” of the rape was that the stories given by mother and daughter matched up. But this tenuous evidence was apparently enough to send Daryl to jail; since he would not plead guilty, he was given 20 to 40 years. Less than a year after his trial ended, Chaneya was taken out of her mother’s custody, and both mother and daughter revealed the real story. However the judge believed that they were being forced to make false confessions due to Stockholm Syndrome or something else that could no be proven, and Daryl remains in jail to this day.
That being said, Chaneya and her mother have managed to get the case reviewed, and a verdict should be reached soon. So far, Daryl has spent 16 years in prison.
3. David Ranta
In 1990, a man attempted to rob a jewelry courier, who then hit him with his car. The would-be-thief then managed to flee the scene by shooting dead Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, a Holocaust survivor, and stealing his car. Due to public pressure to solve the murder of this immensely popular Rabbi, police placed the blame on David Ranta. He was tricked into signing a confession, much of the paperwork for the investigation was missing, and police coached a witness to choose him from a line-up.
Despite the fact that he was only chosen in one out of five lineups, and that the courier said it was absolutely not Ranta, he was found guilty and sentenced to almost 40 years in prison. Fast forward to 2011, and the truth finally begins to come to light: one witness, at the time a young boy, confessed that he had been told to identify Ranta as the perpetrator, while another woman told police that her late husband was the man behind the killing. After 23 years, the now 58-year-old Ranta was released.
2. Michael Morton
In 1987, 32-year-old Michael Morton was found guilty of his wife’s murder, and sentenced to life in prison. His wife had been beaten to death as their 3-year-old son Eric looked on. The boy was interviewed by police, and said that his father was out and that it was a monster that had killed his mother. Although many aspects of the toddler’s testimony added up with the physical evidence and the crime scene, he was deemed too young to have his word taken as proof (why’d they even talk to him in the first place then?) and his father was convicted.
Years later, the Innocence Project managed to have DNA tests done on a bandana that had been found near the crime scene. This turned out to be the pivotal piece of evidence in not only exonerating Michael, but getting a match for another person that is most likely the killer. The DNA found on the cloth was found to match a man that was already in the DNA database and, although he could not be named, it is a fresh new lead in what may have otherwise been a trail gone cold. Michael was finally released after 25 years, aged 57.
1. Damon Thibodeaux
Damon Thibodeaux was accused of the rape and murder of his 14-year-old cousin back in 1996; after an intense nine-hour interrogation by police, he broke down and confessed that he had done it. Although he took that confession back later that day, it was too late, and he was sentenced to death.
Being found guilty of such a sickening crime when one is actually innocent is dreadful enough in its own right, but having to spend years waiting for your impending execution is another kind of terrible altogether. But arguably the worst part of the story is that, as a result of his wrong conviction, Damon spent 15 years in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day. That kind of treatment is more than enough to completely shatter a human being.
Once again, it was the continuing efforts of the Innocence Project that this man was revealed to be innocent. Thanks to them, DNA testing proved that it was another man who had killed the young girl, and that she had in fact not been molested. They also found that the witness who claimed to see him at the scene of the crime had reported seeing him not only after the body had been recovered, but also after he had already been arrested. Damon had only confessed to the crime so he could escape death row, and that didn’t even work.
Despite the fact that he had confessed, he was completely innocent, and the shockingly inhumane treatment of a wrongly convicted man for a decade and a half should be enough to make anyone who believes in extreme forms of punishment rethink their beliefs.