Wrongly Convicted – Stories of the Innocent
Imagine being in prison for years, sentenced to death row, for a crime you didn’t commit. In the U.S. between 2% and 5% of all prisoners are innocent. The following in a very small sampling of former inmates that lived that nightmare for years until they were finally exonerated.
Juan Catalan has the TV show “Curb Your Enthusiasm” to thank for his release from prison after spending 5 months awaiting a capital murder trial. He was accused of gunning down 16-year-old Martha Puebla in front of her home. Martha had testified in a gang murder case that included Juan’s brother as a co-defendant; so the police thought they had their motive and unfortunately did not do their due diligence in checking Juan’s alibi.
Juan was cheering on the LA Dodgers with his 6 year old daughter at the time of the shooting. He produced ticket stubs and offered to take a lie detector test to prove his innocence. He also did not fit the description, but the police were convinced they had their man and threw Juan in jail to await trial.
Disheartened, Juan tried to think of anyway to prove he was at the game, and then he remember a TV show as being filmed and he was in one of the shots! His lawyer tracked down the outtakes and comb through the footage finding several shots of Juan in the stands eating a hot dog and watching the game. He was released from jail and received a $320,000 settlement, but he is still awaiting an apology from the city police.
If you thought 5 months sounded like a long time to be locked up while innocent, then you won’t even be able to fathom what Ricky Jackson endured. THIRTY-NINE YEARS of wrongful imprisonment! And surprisingly, he says he doesn’t hold any grudges.
Ricky was 18 when he was locked up for the killing of Harold Franks outside a neighborhood store. Franks was selling money orders when he was splashed with acid, clubbed, shot and robbed by a few criminals.
Ricky and the Bridgeman bothers were ID’ed as the assailants by a 12-year-old paperboy, Eddie Vernon. However, he failed to identify them in a police lineup and several classmates testified that Eddie was not near the crime scene. The proof was shaky at best, but that did not stop the judge from handing down a conviction and sentence of death by electric chair. His sentence was eventually commuted to life imprisonment.
While in prison, he passed the time reading, gardening and writing letters to magazines, producers, etc. about his wrong conviction. In 2011, a magazine read one of these letters and ran an article about the weak evidence in Ricky’s case and the article was luckily seen by Eddie Vernon’s pastor. At the pastor’s urging, Eddie met with the Innocence Project (a group that helps exonerate innocence prisoners) and rescinded his 1975 testimony. He claims that police coerced him into identifying Jackson and the Bridgeman brothers. In 2014 prosecutors dismissed the charges against the three men and they are trying their best to soak in their new freedom after so many years of injustice.
DNA testing was Kirk’s saving grace after being locked up for nine years for a crime he didn’t commit. Five eyewitnesses state that they saw Bloodsworth with a girl in Maryland the day she was found raped and murdered in 1984. Bloodsworth received two life sentences and began his life as an innocent behind bars. He eventually came across an article about a new forensic technique, DNA Testing, and pushed to have it used in his case. The young victims underwear was tested for semen and it did not match Bloodsworth and he was released from jail. Ironically, it did match another inmate in the same prison on Kirk – Kimberly Shay Ruffner – and Bloodsworth would see him occasionally in the prison yard during workouts.
Another case of DNA to the rescue was that of William Dillion, convicted of first degree murder and exonerated after 27 years. James Dvorak was beaten to death on Florida’s east coast and multiple faulty eye witnesses lead to William Dillion being convicted even though he was miles from the crime scene and had an alibi. A scent tracking dog linked Dillion to the criminals T-shirt (this form of evidence has later proven not scientifically valid), a former girlfriend put Dillion at the crime scene (she recanted her statement a week later and was coerced by the police to making the statement — it was also found out she slept with the lead detective), a half blind truck driver said Dillion was the hitchhiker he picked up at the near the crime scene (even though he had previously described the hitchhiker as 4” shorter with a mustache), and a jailhouse informant said Dillion confessed (even though no one else around heard the confession and the informant received a dropped conviction in return for this information). All the witness accounts had big holes in them, but nevertheless, Dillion was sentenced and it wouldn’t be until 2008 that DNA evidence linked the real killer to the crime.
You would think being 1,000 miles away from a crime would be a good enough alibi, but unfortunately for Jonathan Fleming, he was still convicted of murder. A women testified that she had seen him shoot a friend in Brooklyn, New York. It would have been impossible as Jonathan was at Disney World as proved by plane tickets, hotel receipts, eye witnesses, videos and other material. But the police took the women’s word and sentenced Fleming – after 25 years, he was released when the eyewitness recanted her statement. A settlement of 6.25 million was award to Fleming for the wrongful conviction that took many years of his life.
Richardson went from hero to convicted rapist and killer in a very short-time due to the shoddy work of a forensic analyst, Fred Zain. When he noticed his father’s neighbors house burning in 1989, he kicked in the door and saved a 3 year old girl and called the police. What he didn’t know is that the girls mother had been bound, raped and beaten to death inside the house before the fire was lit. Despite the little girls protests, the police soon tied Richardson to the crime and he served 10 years before it was revealed that the forensic analyst on the case had made many false statements based on forensic testing and that Richardson’s blood was not at the scene of the crime.