Following on from my blog - Executed & Convicted Murderers Who Were Innocent (UK) - which looked into the most high-profile miscarriages of justice in the UK which helped change the British legal system for good - here's the US version. Obviously many of us know about the Steve Avery case as documented in the series Making of a Murderer, where he was wrongfully tried for murder (twice)... but he wasn't the first, and he won't be the last. Unfortunately, so vast and corrupt is the US legal system that it's almost impossible to list everyone who has been wrongfully convicted - and even executed - for murder in the USA, so what follows is a list of some of the more infamous ones... broken down into a two-parter.
Graves was twice scheduled to die by lethal injection, but his case was overturned when Carter’s lawyer - District Attorney Charles Sebesta – finally decided to share a key piece of evidence; Carter’s confession that he had acted alone. Found entirely innocent, the charges were dropped against Graves, and after 18 years on Death Row he was released and awarded $1.4 million in compensation. District Attorney Charles Sebesta was found guilty of concealing evidence and false testimony… and was disbarred.
So flimsy was the evidence that the prosecutor brought in a psychologist - James Grigson – to interpret Willingham’s mental state based on his tattoo (a skull & serpent) and the Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin posters in his room. After his death, the Texas Forensic Science Commission concluded that evidence against him was badly misinterpreted, that no combustible material was used to start the fire, and that the fire itself… was an accident.
Although he protested his innocence, DeLuna was found guilty and sentenced to death. In May 2012, an investigation by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review concluded that there were too many discrepancies in the evidence; what the “killer” and the “jogger” (DeLuna) were wearing, that the killer had a beard and De Luna didn’t, that the crime-scene was bloody even though no blood was found on DeLuna’s clothes at all, and – worse still – a local man had confessed to the crime many times; his name was Carlos Hernandez, and he looked just like DeLuna.
In 1994, thanks to advances in DNA testing, Hunt was found not guilty, but it wasn’t until 2003 (19 ½ years into his sentence) that he was exonerated and freed when DNA found the true culprit, Willard E. Brown who confessed to killing Sykes. Darryl Hunt went on to become a champion and advocate for the Innocence Project – which assists those who have been wrongly incarcerated – but died on 13th March 2016 of a self-inflicted gunshot, after a long battle with stage 5 cancer.
Ramon Salinas, the investigation’s original homicide detective gave a sworn deposition to the court stating “Nothing from the investigation ever led us to any evidence that he was involved” as well as a former Waco Police lieutenant stating "I do not think David Spence committed this offense". Spence was executed on 3rd April 1997. His final statement was to his (alleged) victim’s parents – “I want you to understand I speak the truth when I say I didn’t kill your kids. Honestly I have not killed anyone. I wish you could get the rage from your hearts and you could see the truth and get rid of the hatred” and lastly to his own children; in which he said “I love you all – (names of children) – Corey, Steve (garbled) – This is very important. I love ya’ll and I miss ya’ll. O.K., now I’m finished”.
And even though his weak confession was the only evidence against him, Gary Gauger was found guilty and sentenced to death. After two years and nine months on Death Row, Gary Gauger was found innocent when during Police surveillance a motorcycle gang admitted to the murders, and released in March 1996. Read more.
Part two of Executed & Convicted Murderers Who Were Innocent - USA will be released soon.
If you "enjoyed" this blog post try; Odds of a US Presidential Assassination, Killer Couples Part 1 & Part 2, Famous British Serial Killers - Where Are They Now? Serial Killers & Murderers Who Were Never Caught, London's Deadliest & Often Forgotten Disasters, Killers Born During a Full Moon, Killer's Star Signs, Serial Killers Who Were On TV, Celebrities Who Have Killed, London's Railway of Death, Serial Killers as Kids and the World's Weirdest Death Rituals
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a writer, crime historian and tour-guide who runs Murder Mile Walks, a guided tour of Soho’s most notorious murder cases, hailed as “one of the top ten quirky & unusual things to do in London” and featuring 12 murderers, including 3 serial killers, across 15 locations, totalling 75 deaths, over just a one mile walk.
Michael J Buchanan-Dunne is a crime historian, writer and tour guide of Murder Mile Walks.