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10 Executed Prisoners That Were Later Found to Be Innocent

6. Carlos DeLuna was accused of brutally stabbing a gas station clerk by the name of Wanda Lopez. He was mistaken for Carloz Hernandez, the actual killer who shared many characteristics with him. Carlos DeLuna was eventually executed on 6 December 1989. Twenty-three years later, Columbia Law School professor James Liebman and his team conducted thorough research and established DeLuna’s innocence.

Carlos De luna
(Right) Carlos De Luna, (Left) Carlos Hernandes. Image Credit: Corpus Christi Police Department / Dailymail.co.uk

Carlos DeLuna was out on parole when he witnessed the murder of a female gas station clerk named Wanda Lopez committed by his acquaintance, Carlos Hernandez. Uncommon similarities between DeLuna and Hernandez contributed to the building of the case.

Their first names, looks, and their common Hispanic origin, all matched. These factors played in the mind of the sole witness that identified DeLuna, and not Hernandez as the murderer.

More than 20 years after DeLuna’s execution, James Leibman and his team accidentally chose to investigate DeLuna’s case. They published a report book on 15 May 2012 entitled The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution.

This report comprehensively uncovered police incompetence, incorrect eye-witness accounts, hiding of evidence, and a slew of other discrepancies that led to DeLuna’s wrongful execution. (1, 2)

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7. In 1987, Sedley Alley was charged with the rape and murder of Suzanne Marie Collins. He was denied DNA testing by the courts. The physical evidence at the crime scene and an eyewitness account, both did not match Sedley Alley’s persona. Instead, they matched closely with Suzanne Collins’ boyfriend. However, he was forced to falsely testify against himself, a fact confirmed by a false confession expert. 

Sedley Alley & Suzanne Marie Collins
(Right) Sedley Alley (Left) Suzanne Marie Collins. Image Credit: Alley Family / innocenceproject.org, US Marines / Dailymail.co.uk

Marine Corps Lance Corporal Suzanne Marie was found dead in Edmund Orgill Park in 1985. Sexually assaulted, impaled with a tree branch, and struck at least 100 times. Alley surprisingly pleaded guilty to this barbaric act.

However, his confession did not match the evidence found at the crime scene, and an eyewitness account of the incident described the killer as a 5’ 6-8” tall man with short brown hair, dark complexion, and driving a station wagon. The description and tire marks found matched closely with Suzanne’s boyfriend, Thomas Bruce, and his vehicle.

Bruce apparently thought he was the only one dating Ms. Collins, whereas she had plans to move to California to marry another man.

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Sedley Alley was a strapping man of 6’4″.  Alley’s testimony said that he had stabbed the victim with a screwdriver, but the evidence showed no such injuries. Alley later said he was highly intoxicated that night and that a confession was forced out of him. Dr. Richard Leo, a false confession expert, confirmed this.

Alley’s lawyers failed to notice these inconsistencies and instead argued that Alley suffered from a multiple-personality disorder. Tennessee also denied DNA testing of clothing and the murder weapon under a certain ruling.

Sedley Alley was executed in 2006, 19 years after his conviction. His family still pursues DNA testing to prove his innocence. (1, 2, 3)

8. Strands of hair of a murder victim found in 28-year old Colin Campbell Ross’ home on a fateful day in 1922 led to his execution, a mere 115 days after the rape and murder of 12-year old Alma Tirtschke. A re-examination of the hair strands in 1998 and a later discovery with respect to key prosecution witnesses led to Colin Campbell Ross’ official pardon on 8 May 2008.

Colin Campbell Ross
Image Credit: Executedtoday.com / Wikipedia.org , independentaustralia.net

Colin Campbell Ross ran a shop near which a girl had been raped and strangled. With news of a cold-blood killer catching air, police quickly zoned in on Ross. A red hair and a blonde strand were found from his home, and the examiner said it was from the same scalp.

A prostitute and a fortune-teller testified that Ross had confessed to them, splitting the illegal gains they made against the life of an innocent man.

Another witness testified the same, and he had a history of committing perjury, a fact which evaded the court. Ross’ own witnesses, who would testify that Ross was in his shop when the incident occurred, were never questioned.

In 1993, researcher Kevin Morgan became interested in Ross’s case. In 1995, he successfully managed to have the hairs re-examined using the latest technology. Three years later in 1998, a test by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine confirmed the suspicions: the hair was not from the scalp of the victim Alma Tirtschke.

On May 8, 2008, Colin Campbell Ross became the only judicially executed person to be pardoned in Australian history as of that date. (1, 2, 3)

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9. On 21 June 1995, Larry Griffin was executed by lethal injection. In a case of botched-up eyewitness accounts, Griffin was charged with the murder of Quintin Moss, a known drug-dealer in an infamous block in St. Louis. Another man, Wallace Conners, was also shot non-fatally. However, Conners’ testimony was never called into court. Instead, an alibi eye witness was presented by Robert Fitzgerald, a professional criminal with a number of felony charges pending against him. 

Larry Griffins
(Right) Larry Griffins, (Left) Image for representational purpose only. Image Credit: Murderpedia.org

Larry Griffin was only 27 when he was convicted of a murder based on the testimony of a White man, Robert Fitzgerald, who claims he saw Griffin in a drive-by shooting.

Fitzgerald, a White man would have been easily noticed in the predominantly Black area had he been actually present at the crime scene, according to an actual witness, Wallace Conners. Conners was Larry’s acquaintance and was himself shot in the incident in 1981. He was never called by either the defense or the prosecution. There was no other evidence available from the crime scene.

He was eventually executed on 21 July 1995. However, a private investigation by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund uncovered evidence that affirmed the innocence of Larry Griffin. (1, 2, 3)

10. On Nov 22, 1940, Harry Gleeson was accused of shooting Mary McCarthy twice in the face to cover up his misdeed of conceiving an illegitimate child with her. Gleeson worked for his uncle John Caesar at his farm when he discovered Mary’s body. Being a good Samaritan cost him his life as police framed him and he was hanged in February 1941. Seventy-six years later, he received a posthumous pardon from the government of Ireland.

Harry Gleeson
Image Credit : Independent.ie , innocentproject.ie

Harry Gleeson was accused of shooting Mary McCarthy with firearms purchased by his uncle John Caesar.

Information related to the registration of the firearms was withheld, false witness statements were issued, and the date of death was tweaked to November 20 instead of 21. This meant that Gleeson did not have an alibi. Moreover, Gleeson’s aunt and uncle were never questioned.

Griffith College-based Irish Innocence Project and the Justice for Harry Gleeson group worked to unravel facts anew. The review was successful in establishing his innocence. Harry Gleeson was officially pardoned on 19 December 2015 by then-president Michael D. Higgins. (1, 2)

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