There are many reasons why people are convicted of crimes that they did not commit: police and/or prosecutorial misconduct, eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, faulty evidence, racial prejudices and an inept defense. Here, we take a look at what went wrong in the cases of these high-profile wrongful convictions.
Michael Hanline – Time Served: 34 years
Michael Hanline was convicted of murder for the fatal shooting of truck driver J.T. McGarr in 1980, and sentenced to life without parole. Prosecutors alleged that Hanline murdered his friend McGarr due to jealousy over being involved with the same woman, Mary Bischoff. The original trial prosecutors obtained statements from a confidential informant and from Bischoff, which proved to be inconsistent and were withheld from Hanline’s defense team. The California Innocence Project later found out about these statements and discovered that crucial DNA analysis did not match Hanline. In April 2015, after more than three decades of incarceration, a Ventura County Superior Court judge formally dismissed all charges against 69-year-old Hanline.
Glenn Ford – Time Served: 30 years
Ford, a 33-year-old black man, was convicted for the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman, a 56-year-old Louisiana watchmaker. None of Ford’s court-appointed defense lawyers had ever practiced criminal law. Prosecutor Marty Stroud excluded African-Americans from the jury. There was no physical evidence linking Ford to the murder, yet it took the all-white jury only three hours to find Ford guilty. He was placed in solitary confinement on death row at Louisiana State Penitentiary in March 1985. In March 2014, a judge ordered his release, having found credible evidence that Ford had not been present or involved in the robbery and murder. Glenn Ford was refused compensation for his wrongful conviction. He died of lung cancer in June 2015, at the age of 65.
Dewey Bozella – Time Served: 26 years
In 1983, 18-year-old Bozella, a former amateur boxer, was convicted for the murder of 92-year-old Emma Crapser in New York, and given a life sentence. Years after the conviction, lawyers at Wilmer Hale discovered new evidence that had been suppressed by prosecutors. A neighbor’s testimony, which was favorable to Bozella’s case, had not been disclosed. Two of the witnesses, with criminal histories, had changed their testimonies in return for lenient treatment in their own cases. A Supreme Court judge agreed that the District Attorney had failed to disclose crucial evidence that would have proved Bozella was innocent. Bozella served 26 years in prison before his conviction was overturned in 2009. Bozella sought $25 million in damages, and in January 2015, he reached an undisclosed settlement with Dutchess County.
Andre Hatchett – Time Served: 25 years
Andre Hatchett, a mentally disabled man, was convicted of the 1991 murder of Neda Mae Carter in a Bedford-Stuyvesant park. Prosecutors failed to inform Hatchett's lawyers that the star witness, a career criminal, had initially pointed to someone else. The fact that Hatchett’s leg was in a cast at the time of the murder should have raised doubts about his ability to strangle and batter the victim, but his injuries went unmentioned at trial, even by his own attorneys. One attorney was so inept that a judge declared a mistrial in the first trial. The attorney in the subsequent trial gave only an 11-minute closing argument. Hatchett was sentenced to 25 years to life. The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Conviction Review Unit recommended that the conviction should not stand, and Hatchett was released in March 2016 after having served 25 years.
Timothy Bridges – Time Served: 25 years
In March 1990, 23-year-old Timothy Bridges was charged with the rape, assault and battery of 83-year-old Modine Wise in Charlotte, North Carolina. The victim denied that she had been raped and although a rape kit was prepared, no test took place. A state crime lab analyst, trained by the FBI in hair analysis, testified that two hairs found on the crime scene belonged to Bridges. The jury convicted Bridges of all charges and he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The defense subsequently discovered that the FBI-trained analyst had given scientifically invalid testimony. In 2015, a jacket found near the victim was sent for DNA testing and the semen identified did not match Bridges’ DNA profile. Three informants were found to have been promised money or breaks in their own prosecutions to testify against Bridges. In February 2016, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney dismissed the indictments and Bridges was freed.
Michael Morton – Time Served: 25 years
In 1987, Michael Morton was wrongfully convicted in a Texas court of the 1986 murder of his wife, Christine Morton, and sentenced to life imprisonment. He spent nearly 25 years in prison before he was exonerated by DNA evidence, which supported his claim of innocence and pointed to the crime being committed by another individual. Morton was released from prison on October 4, 2011. The prosecutor, Ken Anderson, was sentenced to 10 days in jail after being convicted of contempt of court for withholding evidence after the judge had ordered its release to the defense. In May 2013, the Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, signed Texas Senate Bill 1611 (the Michael Morton Act) into law. The act is designed to ensure a more open discovery process.
David Ranta – Time Served: 23 years
The unemployed drug addict received a 37-year sentence following a guilty verdict for the murder of a New York rabbi in February 1990. Detectives said that Ranta, despite initial denials, had admitted to the murder. Ranta denied making such an admission and he passed a polygraph test. A witness, whose evidence helped to convict Ranta, later testified that the lead police detective, Louis Scarcella, told him to pick the man with the big nose from a lineup, so he selected the man with the biggest nose—who happened to be Ranta. Investigators subsequently discovered that two other witnesses were allowed to smoke crack cocaine and entertain prostitutes for agreeing to implicate Ranta. David Ranta was released from a maximum security jail in March 2013, after a Brooklyn judge overturned his conviction. In February 2014, the city of New York settled Ranta’s $150m wrongful conviction claim for $6.4m.
Angel Gonzalez – Time Served: 20 years
In 2013, DNA evidence proved that Angel Gonzalez was not guilty of the 1994 abduction and rape of an Illinois woman. Gonzalez was convicted despite the fact that four witnesses corroborated his alibi that he was in another apartment on the same complex visiting friends at the time of the attack. Investigating officers extracted a false confession inconsistent with the crime from the then 20-year-old Gonzalez. His confession was written in English although he spoke little of it and could not read English. The victim identified Gonzalez as the assailant, even though he had a goatee and a birthmark under his right eye—neither distinguishing feature previously described by the victim. Gonzalez received a 40-year sentence and was finally released in 2015, following the recommendation of Lake County authorities.
Marvin Anderson – Time Served: 20 years
Marvin Anderson was sentenced in December 1982 to 210 years for abduction, rape, sodomy and robbery. Anderson, an 18-year-old black man, was accused of the brutal attack on a young white woman. The police officer chose Anderson as a prime suspect because the assailant had told his victim that he “had a white girl,” and Anderson was the only black man that the officer knew who lived with a white girl. The victim picked Anderson out of a photo array and an all-white jury convicted Anderson of all charges. In 1988, John Otis Lincoln admitted in court to being the perpetrator, but the judge, who was the original trial judge, refused to vacate the conviction. In December 2001, DNA testing of semen finally excluded Anderson as the perpetrator. In August 2002, Virginia Governor Mark Warner granted Anderson a full pardon.
Steven Avery – Time Served: 18 years
In 1985, at the age of 22, Avery was convicted of the rape and attempted murder of Penny Beerntsen, despite having 16 alibi witnesses whose evidence put him 45 miles away from the scene. The victim selected his photograph from a photo array of nine men, and his conviction was almost exclusively based on this eyewitness account. He was convicted and sentenced to 32 years before DNA testing linked the crime to Gregory Allen, a convicted felon who bore a strong resemblance to Avery. Avery was exonerated in September 2003, and filed a $36 million wrongful conviction civil case against Manitowoc County, the Sheriff and the District Attorney. While the lawsuit was still pending, Avery was arrested for the October 2005 murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. He was convicted of the murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Avery has launched numerous appeals since his conviction and continues to proclaim his innocence.