journeyforjustice-215x300The pro-abolitionist Death Penalty Information Center has published a list of 156 death row inmates who have been exonerated since 1973. Some in the anti-death penalty community, including California Innocence Project Director Justin Brooks, claim that the list represents individuals who are factually innocent. That is, they didn’t pull the trigger, didn’t participate in the crime, didn’t drive the get-away car, or have any other involvement in the murders with special circumstances that ultimately landed them on death row. A cursory review of the list proves that this is not true.

The jury gave #5 James Creamer a death sentence, even though there was no death penalty option. Creamer was sentenced to death on 2/4/73 and then was resentenced to life on 9/28/73. He was not on death row when he was exonerated in 1975.

Delbert Tibbs #11 was convicted and sentenced to death for murdering the boyfriend of the woman he raped. On appeal, Tibbs benefitted from a now obsolete Florida rule that “carefully scrutinized” the testimony of the rape complainant since she was the sole witness in the rape case “so as to avoid an unmerited conviction. Thus despite the evidence of Tibbs’ guilt as stated in the Court’s opinion in Tibbs v. Florida, his conviction was reversed— an action that the Florida Supreme Court later regretted as “clearly improper.

#21 Anibal Jarramillo’s conviction for two counts of 1st degree murder was reversed when the Florida Supreme Court ruled the evidence used against him was not legally sufficient to support the conviction. Jarramillo’s fingerprints found at the crime scene were the only direct evidence linking him to the murders.

Juan Ramos #32 was acquitted after his conviction was reversed because of inadequate foundation for the admission of dog scent evidence. It should be noted that with proper foundation that dog scent lineup identifications are admissible evidence in many states.

Richard Neal Jones #34 was acquitted of murder, but remained implicated in the conspiracy leading to the murder.

Robert Cox’s #38 conviction was reversed because of insufficient evidence. Circumstances that create nothing more than a strong suspicion that the defendant committed the crime was not sufficient to support a conviction. Although state witnesses cast doubt on Cox’s alibi, the state’s evidence could have created only a suspicion, rather than proving beyond a reasonable doubt, that Cox, and only Cox, murdered the victim.

The appeals court reluctantly reversed the conviction of John C. Skelton’s #41. “Although the evidence against appellant leads to a strong suspicion or probability that appellant committed the capital offense, we cannot say that it excludes to a moral certainty every other reasonable hypothesis except appellant’s guilt …. Although this Court does not relish the thought of reversing the conviction in this heinous case and ordering an acquittal, because the evidence does not exclude every other reasonable hypothesis, we are compelled to do so.”

The trial court excluded evidence of Dale Johnston’s #42 guilt that was seized as the “fruit of the poisonous tree” of an unconstitutionally coercive interrogation. Subsequently, a state trial court rejected Johnston’s request for compensation for wrongful imprisonment because his innocence was not established.

Jimmy Lee Mathers #43 was released after his conviction was reversed by a sharply split Arizona Supreme Court for legal insufficiency of the evidence. The contrasting majority and dissenting opinions that debate the substantiality of the evidence demonstrate that Mathers was not found “actually innocent.”

Jay Smith #47, a PhD and U.S. Army reserve colonel convicted and sentenced to die for murdering Susan Reinert and her two small children. The Penn. State Supreme Court overturns his conviction because the special prosecutor withheld 3-grains of sand off his shoe. Smith then sues everyone and loses. The Third U.S. Circuit Court says in denying Smith any compensation that “nothing diminishes our confidence in Smith’s “actual guilt”.

Kirk Noble Bloodsworth #48 is the first American sentenced to death row who was exonerated by DNA. However, his death sentence had already been commuted to two consecutive life sentences by the time his exoneration based upon DNA evidence was in the works.

James Robison’s #52 conviction was reversed due to evidentiary error, and he was acquitted on retrial. However, evidence incriminating Robison was introduced at the separate trial of his alleged accomplice.

Muneer Deeb #53 was acquitted of a bungled murder for hire after his case was reversed for hearsay error. A previous witness also refused to testify. But evidence at the separate trial of Deeb’s alleged co-conspirator still connected Deeb with the murder.

Andrew Golden’s #54 conviction was reversed because of legal insufficiency of the evidence, not “actual innocence.” “The finger of suspicion points heavily at Golden. A reasonable juror could conclude that he more likely than not caused his wife’s death.”

The jurors who acquitted Robert Charles Cruz #56 explained their not guilty verdict as a matter of “reasonable doubt.” Jurors admitted that they had doubts as soon as they voted unanimously for acquittal, with some saying they walked into the courtroom with aching stomachs. Some said they were consoled by the thought that if Cruz was involved, he had spent nearly 15 years in prison.

when the California Supreme Court vacated Troy Lee Jones #65 murder conviction on grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel, the court noted that there was still evidence suggesting Jones’ guilt even if that evidence was not overwhelming. The court did not indicate that Jones was actually innocent.

Carl Lawson’s #66 case is an “example of the system working well.” He was acquitted on retrial after his case was reversed because the trial court denied him funds for a shoeprint expert and because his attorney had a conflict of interest.

The evidence was insufficient that Ricardo Aldape Guerra #68 was the actual triggerman in the murder of a police officer, but the evidence remained that he was an accomplice. Since Guerra was not prosecuted under Texas’ “law of parties,” he could not be retried.

Benjamin Harris #69 made incriminating statements that he committed a contract killing to the police, which he then contradicted on the witness stand when he denied that the killing was contractual. The incriminating statements were then suppressed on the ground that Harris’s attorney was ineffective for permitting Harris to talk to the police. Harris was not retried.

#70, Robert Hayes was convicted of raping and killing a female groom at a Florida racetrack. They used DNA to convict him. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that DNA is a “novel, untested science” and reversed the conviction. The State retried him without DNA and he is found not guilty. Cops in upstate NY are then interested in him for an almost identical murder a couple of years earlier. By now DNA is accepted and he pleads Guilty and is now in prison in NY, where he recently got another 10 years for trying to gouge out a guards eyes.

Maybe the most outrageous case is #76, Anthony Porter. He got away with murder because the Innocence Project framed an innocent man.

Warren Douglas Manning #81 was tried five times before he was acquitted. The first four trials ended as either mistrials or convictions that were reversed for instructional and venue error. As Manning’s lawyer conceded to the jury, “If there wasn’t any case against Warren Manning, then we wouldn’t be here. But the law requires that the state prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Without that, the law says you cannot find him guilty.”

Steven Manning #83 is another case in which it appears that the system itself worked.” Manning’s case was reversed for evidentiary error, and he was acquitted on retrial.

When Joaquin Martinez #94 was returned for retrial, his ex-wife recanted the testimony she gave against him at the first trial. The taped statements that could have contradicted her recantation were excluded.

The Nebraska Supreme Court reversed Jeremy Sheets #96 conviction because the trial court should have excluded some prosecution evidence. However, there was no showing that this excluded evidence was unreliable. In light of this state court ruling, the prosecution did not retry Sheets. But the Nebraska State Victims’ Compensation Fund denied Sheets’ request for compensation because the dismissal of his case was not based on innocence.

Ray Krone, #98 on the list spent two years on death row, but his sentence had been comuted to life many years prior to being exonerated by DNA.

Thomas Kimbell #99 was acquitted after his case was reversed because the trial court did not permit him to impeach a witness with prior inconsistent statements.

Wesley Quick’s #107 multiple murder convictions were reversed because the trial court impeded the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. Quick had testified he had been on LSD and did not remember what happened during the murders.152 When Quick was retried, he changed his version of events and impeached the witnesses. His subsequent acquittal is another example of the state appellate system properly working. But Quick’s changing testimony does not support a conclusion that he was the prototypical “wrong person”.

Curtis McCarty #124 was convicted and sentenced to death for a murder related to a sexual assault. McCarty’s case was not dismissed because he was innocent. Rather, the trial court found that the actions of a former police chemist had tainted or destroyed forensic evidence in the case.

A federal district court vacated Levon Jones #127 conviction and death sentence for murdering Leamon Grady due to ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to adequately impeach the prosecution’s main witness, Lovely Lorden, and present evidence of another suspect. Significantly, the federal district court refused to find that Jones was actually innocent.

Two appellate courts determined that regardless of whether Barbara Milke #151 murdered her son, the actions of the prosecutor and the cops were so bad, so deplorable, and so deceitful, that it is better for the greater good that a convicted murderer be set free.

Much of the research for this page came from retired California Deputy Attorney General’s paper Exoneration Inflation: Justice Scalia’s Concurrence in Kansas v. Marsh

Translate »