7 Cases Where People Spent Years Behind Bars For Crimes They Didn't Commit
Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix's docuseries Making a Murder, spent 18 years behind bars for a rape he didn't commit. He's not alone.
Steven Avery, the subject of Netflix’s popular docuseries Making a Murder, served nearly 20 years behind bars for a rape he didn’t commit.
In 1985, a 22-year-old Avery was convicted of raping jogger Penny Beerntsen on a beach near her home in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. After serving 18 years in prison, he was exonerated based on DNA evidence connecting another man, who was already serving a 60-year prison sentence, to the attack.
After being released in 2003, Avery filed a lawsuit against Manitowoc County for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.
As Avery’s story gains renewed attention in light of the series, INSIDE EDITION is taking a look at other wrongfully convicted prisoners.
In May 1993, three eight-year-old boys were found murdered in West Memphis, Arkansas. Three teens, Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, were arrested, tried and convicted of the murders in 1994. The trio would become known as the “West Memphis Three.”
Misskelley and Baldwin were sentenced to life in prison while Echols was sent to death row. The prosecution cited Echols' Metallica T-shirts as evidence that he was involved in what was described as a Satanic killing. No DNA from the “Three” was found at the crime scene.
Their story became the subject of many documentaries including the Paradise Lost trilogy and West of Memphis. A celebrity-backed campaign driven by director Peter Jackson, Johnny Depp, Pearl Jam, Henry Rollins and the Dixie Chicks helped bring more attention to the case.
Thanks to new DNA evidence and legal teams, in August 2011, they were released from prison on a controversial Alford plea where they plead guilty but maintained their innocence. The men served 18 years of their sentence.
The “West Memphis Three” were placed on 10 years’ probation and if they re-offend, they could be sent back to prison for 21 years.
The killer(s) for the three boys still remains at large.
At the height of his career, boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was convicted of a triple murder and was placed behind bars for nearly two decades in 1967.
Carter and his friend John Artis were arrested in October 1966 for the murders of three New Jersey restaurant patrons because he matched the description of eyewitnesses. They were later cleared by a grand jury when one of the survivors failed to identify him as the gunman.
But months later, during a new trial, two other eyewitnesses claimed Carter and Artis committed the crime, even though no evidence linked them to the scene. It later emerged that the two witnesses were petty criminals who received money and reduced sentences in exchange for their testimony against Carter.
Artis was released on parole in 1981.
In 1985, following extensive work in a petition of habeas corpus by his legal team, a judge handed a decision to let Carter and Artis go free, saying: “The extensive record clearly demonstrates that [the] petitioners' convictions were predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure."
After years of appeal from New Jersey, the case went to the Supreme Court and in 1998, New Jersey formally dismissed the charges against the two men.
Carter told his story in his 1974 autobiography, The 16th Round: From Number 1 Contender to Number 45472. He also became the subject of Bob Dylan’s 1976 single “Hurricane,” and was portrayed by Denzel Washington in the 1999 film of the same name.
Lewis Fogle, who spent 34 years behind bars for the murder and rape of a teenage girl, walked free in August thanks to new DNA evidence.
Fogle was found guilty in the death of 15-year-old Deann Katherine Long, whose body was found in 1976 by someone picking blackberries in the woods. Fogle always denied involvement in her death.
Last year, he was released from a Pennsylvania prison after a judge vacated his conviction when new DNA evidence suggested he never committed the rape.
DNA evidence from a semen sample gathered from Long's body was tested using new technology, according to the district attorney. Tests showed the semen didn't belong to Fogle.
Fogle's case was helped by the Innocence Project, which pushed for new testing of the physical evidence.
When the 64-year-old walked free, he said he was looking forward to enjoying a steak.
Donald Eugene Gates spent 27 years in prison for the rape and murder of a college student after Washington, D.C. police acted improperly, a jury found.
Georgetown University student Catherine Schilling, 21, was found raped and murdered in a D.C. park in 1981. She had been shot five times in the head.
Gates was convicted in 1982 after a police informant claimed Gates had confessed to him. It later emerged that the informant, a convicted felon, had been paid and a charge against him was dropped after he spoke to the police.
A jury also found two homicide detectives concocted all or part of a confession they claimed Gates made to a police informant, The Washington Post wrote.
Gates was freed in 2009, when he received $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio, the Innocence Project wrote.
Schilling’s rapist and killer were eventually identified through a DNA test of the semen and it emerged he had followed Schilling home when she left work. By the time he was identified, he had died, the Innocence Project wrote.
In November, a federal judge sided with the 64-year-old in in a civil lawsuit, making the District liable for damages for the time he spent behind bars, the Associated Press reported.
In 2014, Glenn Ford was exonerated after spending nearly 30 years on death row. Just a year after being freed, he died of lung cancer aged 65.
In 1984, Ford was sentenced to death for the 1983 killing of a Shreveport, Louisiana jeweler, Isadore Rozeman, who had been robbed and killed in his shop.
There was no physical evidence linking Ford to the crime, and the main witness admitted in court she'd been coerced by police to make up her testimony.
In 2000, the state’s Supreme Court ordered a hearing after Ford claimed that the prosecution suppressed evidence and two other men were responsible for the crime.
In 2014, Ford’s legal team filed a motion to throw out his conviction, stating: “Credible evidence... supporting a finding that Ford was neither present at, nor a participant in, the robbery and murder of Isadore Rozeman.”
In 2015, the prosecutor in the case, Marty Stroud, spoke of his regret.
“I ended up, without anybody else's help, putting a man on death row who didn't belong there,” he told CBS News. “I mean at the end of the day, the beginning, end, middle, whatever you want to call it, I did something that was very, very bad.”
In 1989, five juveniles were convicted in the beating and rape of female jogger in Central Park. Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam and Kharey Wise were between 14 and 16 when they were arrested for the rape, sodomy and assault of the 28-year-old woman.
The teens claimed that incriminating statements they had given to police had been coerced by authorities. But the statements were ruled admissible, and the men were convicted in two separate trials in 1990. The teens, four black and one Hispanic, were given sentences that ranged from five to 15 years behind bars.
The case erupted within the press, with the men known as “The Central Park Five.”
But in 2002, the D.A. said a man named Matais Reyes, confessed to raping the woman and DNA evidence confirmed his involvement. Reyes, a convicted serial rapist and murderer, was serving a life sentence at the time of his confession. He was not prosecuted for raping the jogger due to the statute of limitations passing on the case.
That same year, the men’s convictions were vacated and all charges were withdrawn.
The Central Park Five went on to sue the city of New York for $41 million in 2014.
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