Top 10 innocent people got executed in history
Top 10 innocent people got executed in history

It’d be nice to think our judicial system is totally infallible, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Innocent people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit more often than anyone would like to admit, and in some cases, people who were later found to be innocent have actually been put to death.

Here are top 10 people who were executed and innocent.

List of top 10 innocent people excecuted in history

10. Sedley Alley

9. Perry Family

8. Teng Xingshan

7. Colin Campbell Ross

6. Leo Jones

5. David Spence

4. Timothy Joe Evans

3. Mahmood Hussein Mattan

2. Ruben Cantu

1. Carlos DeLuna

More information on top 10 innocent people executed throughout history

10. Sedley Alley

Photo: Innocence Project
Photo: Innocence Project

Suzanne Marie Collins was a United States Marine Corps lance corporal who was tortured, raped and murdered in 1985 by Sedley Alley. At the time of her murder she was stationed at Naval Support Activity Mid-South in Millington, Tennessee. Collins was a student undergoing training at the base, and was scheduled to graduate from avionics training on the day of her murder. She is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Suzanne Collins was the daughter of Jack and Trudy Collins. She graduated from John R. Lewis High School in Springfield, Virginia.

Collins' body was discovered the next morning by sheriff's deputies, after her roommate reported her missing. Clothes, including a man's red underwear were found close by. When word got to the base of the murder, Alley was immediately arrested by military police. He voluntarily gave a statement to the police, admitting to having killed Collins but gave a substantially false account of the circumstances of the killing. He claimed that his wife Lynne went to a Tupperware party, which had angered him. He drank two six-packs of beer and a bottle of wine. He told authorities that he had gone out for more liquor when his car accidentally hit Collins as she jogged near the air base. He also claimed he accidentally killed the young woman when she fell on a screwdriver he was holding as he was trying to help her. However, an autopsy revealed that her skull had been fractured as the result of suffering repeated beatings, there were no screwdriver wounds, and no wounds consistent with being hit by a car.

In spite of his attempt to convince a jury that he had multiple personality disorder, Alley was convicted on March 18, 1987 of murder in the first degree and on May 17, 1987, was sentenced to death. He was also convicted of aggravated kidnapping and aggravated rape, for which he received consecutive forty-year sentences. He was scheduled to die by electrocution May 2, 1990, but was reprieved indefinitely by the state Court of Criminal Appeals.

A Shelby County judge denied Alley's initial request for state-funded DNA testing of 11 samples of physical evidence, saying he hadn't shown "reasonable probability" that he wouldn't have been prosecuted or convicted if the tests were in his favor.

After numerous appeals, Alley was executed by lethal injection at the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, Tennessee, on the morning of June 28, 2006; he was pronounced dead at 2:12 a.m. The length of Alley's appeals process caused Collins' family to successfully work for limitations on groundless habeas corpus appeals. The amount of time between the murder and Alley's execution (20 years, 11 months, 14 days) was actually longer than Suzanne Collins had been alive (19 years, 1 month, 4 days) when she was killed.

On April 30, 2019, Alley's daughter petitioned the Criminal Court for Shelby County for the DNA test that was denied prior to his execution. A judge denied the request on November 18, 2019.

In 2021, the Innocence Project* teamed up with conservative litigator and former solicitor general resident for President George W. Bush, Paul Clement, to launch an appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on behalf of the estate Sedley Alley. According to The Innocence Project there was weak physical and eyewitness identification evidence against him. The tire tracks found at the crime scene were not from Sedley’s vehicle and recovered shoe prints did not match his shoes. Key eyewitness accounts also don’t match Sedley’s description. He told members of his legal team that he was coerced into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit.

If the DNA evidence from Mr. Alley’s case reveals another person as the guilty party, it will be the first time in history that DNA testing will have proven an innocent person was executed. One hundred seventy-four have been exonerated from death row for crimes they did not commit, including some people who were days away from execution.

Religious leaders of the Shelby County community have called on District Attorney Amy Weirich to issue DNA testing. “Fairness and accuracy in the administration of justice is of great concern to us and our community,” 44 leaders wrote in a letter in 2019. “In that spirit, we implore you to agree to the requested DNA testing in Mr. Alley’s case.

*Innocence Project, Inc. is a nonprofit legal organization that is committed to exonerating individuals who have been wrongly convicted, through the use of DNA testing and working to reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. The group cites various studies estimating that in the United States between 1% and 10% of all prisoners are innocent. The Innocence Project was founded in 1992 by Barry Scheck and Peter Neufeld who gained national attention in the mid-1990s as part of the "Dream Team" of lawyers who formed part of the defense in the O. J. Simpson murder case.

As of 2021, the Innocence Project has help to successfully overturn over 300 convictions through DNA-based exonerations. In 2021, Innocence Project received the biennial Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty by Cato Institute, awarded in recognition and gratitude for its work to ensure liberty and justice for all

9. Perry Family

The Campden Wonder is the name given to events surrounding the return of a man thought murdered in the town of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, England, in the 17th century. A family servant and the servant's mother and brother were hanged for killing their master, but following the man's return it became clear that no murder had taken place, despite the testimony of one of the accused.

The story attracted popular attention in England in the years 1660–1662. The events were documented in a letter by Sir Thomas Overbury titled "A true and perfect account of the examination, confession, trial, condemnation and execution of Joan Perry, and her two sons, John and Richard Perry, for the supposed murder of Will. Harrison" and an accompanying letter by William Harrison detailing his whereabouts in the missing years.

On 16 August 1660 a 70-year-old man named William Harrison left his home in Chipping Campden, intending to walk two miles to the village of Charingworth. When he did not return home at the expected time his wife sent his manservant John Perry to look for him. Neither Harrison nor Perry had returned by the next morning.

Edward Harrison, William Harrison's son, was then sent out to look for the pair and on his way to Charingworth he met John Perry. The servant said that he had not been able to find his master, and he and Edward continued to Ebrington, where they questioned one of the tenants whom Harrison had been going to see. The tenant said that Harrison had been there the previous night. Edward Harrison and John Perry then went to the village of Paxford, but their search proved fruitless.

Edward and John then headed back to Chipping Campden. During the journey they heard that some items belonging to William Harrison had been discovered on the main road between Chipping Campden and Ebrington. These included a hat, a shirt and a neckband. Although the hat had been slashed by a sharp implement, and the shirt and the neckband were covered in blood, there was no sign of the body of William Harrison.

Under questioning John Perry said that he knew Harrison had been murdered, but claimed to be innocent of the crime. He then said that his mother, Joan, and his brother, Richard, had killed Harrison for his money and hidden the body. Joan and Richard denied that they had had anything to do with Harrison's disappearance, but John continued to say that they were guilty, claiming they had dumped his body in a millpond. The pond was dredged, but no body was found.

In 1662, Harrison returned to England aboard a ship from Lisbon. He claimed that he had been abducted, wounded, had his pockets stuffed with money and been spirited away on horses from England via Deal port in Kent, transferred to a Turkish ship and sold into slavery in the Ottoman Empire. Harrison said that after about a year and three quarters his master had died and that he then went to a port and stowed away on a Portuguese ship, finally returning to Dover by way of Lisbon.

The case led to the popular belief that England had a criminal law of 'no body, no murder'. Morton states that this is a misconception and that no such law existed.

8. Teng Xingshan

Top 10 Innocent People Executed in History
Photo: MARCA

Shi Xiaorong, declared by police a "murder victim" in a April 1987 case in Mayang county in central Hunan Province, said she was actually swindled and sold to east Shandong Province as somebody's wife in March that year, one month before a dismembered body was found in a Mayang river and claimed by local police the body of "disappeared Shi".

Butcher Teng Xingshan was convicted of the murder as the police said the dismemberment technique was "very professional" and executed in 1989 despite pleas of innocence. According to police investigation material, Teng was believed to have sexual relations with Shi and killed Shi he suspected of stealing his money. But Shi, who is now in a Guizhou jail for drug trafficking, said she and Teng did not know each other, urging the Human judiciary to declare the trial a miscarriage of trial.

She returned to her hometown in Hunan's neighboring Guizhou Province in 1993 and Teng's relatives was told she was still alive one year later. But it took them years to verify the information and they did not have the funds and the courage to sue the judiciary until last month Teng's daughter and son lodge a lawsuit before the Hunan Higher People's court.

The 1989 verdict of the court reads that "Teng confessed his crime on his initiative and his confession conforms with scientific inspection and identification". Whether torture was used to force conviction is still unknown.

The case comes just two months after a man who served 11 years in prison for murdering his wife was declared innocent, two weeks after the victim reappeared in their hometown in central Hubei Province. Former security guard She Xianglin claimed he was deprived of sleep during 10 days of interrogation until he signed documents pleading guilty to murder. He is now suing the government for compensation over his mistrial and torture during interrogation.

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7. Colin Campbell Ross

Top 10 Innocent People Executed in History
Photo: Murderpedia

Colin Campbell Eadie Ross (11 October 1892 – 24 April 1922) was an Australian wine-bar owner convicted of the murder of a child, which became known as the Gun Alley Murder, and executed despite evidence that he was innocent. Following his execution, efforts were made to clear his name, but it was not until the 1990s that the key evidence was re-examined using modern forensic techniques, strongly indicating that Ross was innocent. As a result, an appeal for mercy was made to Victoria's Chief Justice in 2006, and on 27 May 2008 the Governor of Victoria pardoned Ross, in what is believed to be an Australian legal first.

Nell Alma Tirtschke, known as Alma, was born in 14 March 1909 at a remote mining settlement in Western Australia, the first child of Charles Tirtschke and Nell Alger. In 1911, Charles Tirtschke accepted a position with a mining company in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and the family moved there, where Nell gave birth to a second daughter, Viola, in 1912. The family was returning to Australia in December 1914, when Nell died of complications relating to a third pregnancy and was buried at sea. After arriving in Melbourne, Charles Tirtschke was unable to care for the children, and returned to Western Australia where he worked on the goldfields. Alma and Viola were cared for by their grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Tirschke, who were assisted by their five adult daughters.

By 1921, Henry Tirschke had died, and the grandmother assumed all parental duties. She was remembered by Viola as a strict disciplinarian who kept a close watch on both daughters. Alma was studious and well behaved, and excelled in her studies at the Hawthorn West Central School. However her grandmother greatly restricted her from social activities with other students, and she became very shy. An uncle, John Murdoch, said of Alma Tirschke, "Though of a bright disposition, she was somewhat reserved, and did not make friends readily like some girls. She lacked the vivacious manner that encourages chance acquaintance". Her sister Viola described her as being "soft in speech and soft in manner"

On the afternoon of 30 December 1921, Alma's grandmother sent the twelve-year-old on an errand. She was to collect a package of meat from a butcher's shop in Swanston Street, Melbourne, and take it a short distance to Collins Street to deliver it to her aunt. The errand should have taken no more than 15 minutes and when Alma, who was known to be reliable and obedient, failed to return home, her grandmother became alarmed. She was reported as missing, and the police, along with the Tirtschke family, searched for Alma through the night. Early the next morning, her naked body was found in Gun Alley, a laneway off Little Collins Street, near the address Alma had been sent to. She had been raped and strangled.

The public fascination with the case intensified as newspapers published news of Ross' arrest, but Ross told his lawyers, family and friends that he had nothing to fear. As an innocent man, he said, it was only a matter of time before he would be released.

The trial began on 20 February 1922 and witnesses were produced to attest to Ross's guilt. John Harding, who had a previous conviction for perjury and was being detained in prison at the time, "at the Governor's pleasure", testified that Ross had confided in him in prison, and had admitted his guilt. Ivy Matthews, Olive Maddox, a prostitute, and Julia Gibson, who worked as a fortune-teller under the name "Madame Gurkha", also testified in court that Ross had confessed the crime to them. The prosecution case was that 12-year-old Alma had chosen to have a drink in Ross' wine bar instead of collecting the package for her aunty and had remained there consensually from 3:00pm until 6:00pm drinking wine, at which time Ross had raped and murdered her.

Before his execution in his farewell letter to his family, Ross wrote: "The day is coming when my innocence will be proved."

Ross composed himself with dignity for his quiet but resolute statement from the scaffold:

"I am now face to face with my Maker, and I swear by Almighty God that I am an innocent man. I never saw the child. I never committed the crime, and I don't know who did. I never confessed to anyone. I ask God to forgive those who have sworn my life away, and I pray God to have mercy on my poor darling mother, and my family."

Ross was executed on 24 April 1922 at Melbourne Gaol in a particularly gruesome manner. Authorities had decided to experiment with a four-stranded rope rather than the usual three-stranded European hemp. The four-stranded rope did not run freely through the noose and Ross did not die immediately because his spinal cord was fractured, not severed. Although his windpipe was torn and obstructed by his destroyed larynx, the condemned man continued with rasping breaths and convulsed on the rope. Three times Ross bent his knees and flexed his arms before succumbing, slowly strangled to death by asphyxiation. A prison report later ruled that such a rope must never be used again.

In 1993, Kevin Morgan, a former school teacher, became interested in Ross' case, and began to research the events surrounding the murder of Alma Tirtschke and Ross's execution. He read handwritten notes in the Bible Colin Ross had kept with him in prison, and which had been preserved by his family following his death. Morgan was moved by the simple notations in which Ross wrote of false witnesses, knowing that Ross had written these notes without expecting anyone else to read them.

Two years after he began researching the case, Kevin Morgan found a file in the Office of Public Prosecutions containing the original hair samples, which had been thought lost. He began a long administrative struggle for the right to submit the hair samples for DNA testing, finally achieving his aim in 1998. Two independent scientific authorities - the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and the forensics division of the Australian Federal Police - found that the two lots of hair did not come from the same person, thereby disproving with certainty the most damning piece of evidence presented at Colin Ross's trial.

On 4 October 2005, the families of both Colin Ross and Alma Tirtschke, represented by Elizabeth Eadie Everett on behalf of the Ross family and Bettye Georgina Arthur on behalf of the Tirtschke family, submitted a petition of mercy. On 23 October 2006 the Victorian Attorney General Rob Hulls, utilising his powers under section 584(b) of the Crimes Act 1958, forwarded the 31-page petition to the Chief Justice, Marilyn Warren, requesting her to consider the plea for Ross. On 20 December 2007, Supreme Court Justices Teague, Cummins and Coldrey delivered a unanimous verdict that there had been a miscarriage of justice in Colin Ross's case. The subsequent pardon, granted on 27 May 2008, is the first example of a posthumous pardon in Victoria's legal history and is to date the only instance of a pardon for a judicially executed person in Australia.

6. Leo Jones

Photo: Murderpedia
Photo: Murderpedia

Jones was convicted of murdering a police officer in Jacksonville, Florida. Jones signed a confession after several hours of police interrogation, but he later claimed the confession was coerced. In the mid-1980s, the policeman who arrested Jones and the detective who took his confession were forced out of uniform for ethical violations. The policeman was later identified by a fellow officer as an “enforcer” who had used torture. Many witnesses came forward pointing to another suspect in the case.

On March 17, 1998, the Florida Supreme Court issued its final ruling on Jones' innocence claims. The majority said that "at most," the evidence suggested Schofield might have taken part in the shooting with Jones--a theory of the crime that prosecutors never before suggested.

Two judges, Leander Shaw and Harry Anstead, issued vigorous dissents. Anstead even listed each witness--20 in all--who implicated Schofield or testified to other problems with the case that would help prove Jones' innocence.

Anstead called the evidence "enormous" and said the court was being overly restrictive in how it considered it--so much so that the court threatened "to defeat the ends of justice" by its nearsightedness.

"...we cannot ignore the fact that the State routinely relies on `jailhouse confessions' to secure convictions in criminal cases, including many murder cases," he wrote. "Obviously the State would have a powerful case against Schofield...."

Shaw argued that appeals courts were supposed to be a "constitutional safety net" to prevent the execution of innocent people.

"The present case is a classic example of that safety net working properly--up to the present point," he wrote. "Although Jones was tried and convicted in 1981, much of the present evidence did not--could not--come to light until now, more than a decade later--after Officer Smith and Schofield's accusers came forward. This evidence vastly implicates Schofield and casts serious doubt on Jones' guilt."

Thomas Crapps, an assistant general counsel in the governor's office, recalled that the Jones case was difficult to resolve for then-Gov. Lawton Chiles. The dissents from Shaw and Anstead weighed heavily on Chiles, who had to approve the execution.

"When you start getting into these cases, you realize how much things change over time and how they're not cut and dried," said Crapps, now in private practice.

On March 24, 1998, Jones was executed.

"What I always wondered about was whether I failed Leo or the system failed him," said McClain, one Jones' appellate attorneys. "And I think that the system failed him. You're calling on the system to look at itself and own up to making a mistake. The system doesn't like to do that."

Juror Robert Manley, who then lived in Texas, was on his way to work one morning when he heard on his car radio that Jones had been executed.

He said he pulled over to the side of the road and began to recall his jury duty. He remembered how certain he had been at trial, how he had been impressed by the strength of the evidence, how the prosecutors had systematically erased his doubts.

Then Manley began to think how the certainty he once felt had eroded over the years as he learned more and more about Jones' case.

"It just hit me that something I'd been a part of had come to fruition," he said. "I felt horrible."

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5. David Spence

Photo: History Collection
Photo: History Collection

The 1982 Lake Waco Murders refers to the deaths of three teenagers (two females, one male) near Lake Waco in Waco, Texas, in July 1982. The police investigation and criminal trials that followed the murders lasted for more than a decade and resulted in the execution of one man, David Wayne Spence, as well as life prison sentences for two other men allegedly involved in the crime, Anthony and Gilbert Melendez. A fourth suspect, Muneer Mohammad Deeb, was eventually let out after spending several years in prison.

On July 13, 1982, two fishermen discovered the bodies of Jill Montgomery, 17, Raylene Rice, 17, and Kenneth Franks, 18, in Speegleville Park, near Lake Waco. Franks' body was found propped against a tree, with sunglasses over his eyes. All three victims had been repeatedly stabbed, and both of the women's throats had been slashed. There was also evidence that the women had been sexually assaulted.

The investigation was initially headed by Lieutenant Marvin Horton of the Waco police department, with assistance from Detective Ramon Salinas and Patrolman Mike Nicoletti. Truman Simons, who was with the Waco police department at the time and had been one of the first respondents on the scene of the crime, also assisted the investigation in an informal capacity.

Deeb, Spence, and the Melendez brothers were all indicted late in 1983. District Attorney Vic Feazell, whose office had been instrumental in continuing to pursue new evidence in the case, would manage the prosecution against the accused. Spence and both Melendez brothers were, at the time, already serving prison sentences for various crimes.

The evidence against the men largely consisted of testimony provided by other inmates, who claimed that the defendants had admitted to their involvement in the killings in private discussions, as well as confessions made by Anthony and Gilbert Melendez. Also considered was the confession Deeb had made to the two young women about his involvement in the killings, as well as the life insurance policy he had taken out for his employee. Bite marks on the victims were also presented as evidence of Spence’s involvement.

The trials began in May, with testimony from dental specialists supplementing the evidence that had been provided by the prison witnesses. In June, Anthony Melendez pleaded guilty to the crimes and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Spence’s case was badly damaged by Melendez’ confession, which played a key role in his eventual conviction in July 1984. Unlike Melendez, Spence was sentenced to death for his involvement in the killings.

In January 1985, Gilbert Melendez also pleaded guilty to the murders, and agreed to testify against Deeb. Like his brother, he received a term of life imprisonment in exchange for this confession. Gilbert Melendez died in prison in 1998 from AIDS-related complications. Anthony Melendez died in prison on January 13, 2017.

Deeb, who had continued to protest his innocence, was found guilty of instigating the murders, and on March 14, he was sentenced to death by lethal injection.

Both Spence and Deeb continued to maintain their innocence following their convictions, and both men sought appeals in their cases. In 1991, Deeb’s appeal was granted when the Court of Criminal Appeals “ruled that the testimony of a jail inmate should not have been allowed” in his initial trial. Deeb won his new trial in January 1993, and was subsequently released from prison. Those who had been involved in the initial prosecution were stunned. Former McLennan County District Attorney Vic Feazell, who had prosecuted Deeb, stated following the trial, "I am perplexed and bewildered, as I'm sure a lot of people are. But in my mind, this doesn't change anything as far as Mr. Deeb's culpability goes."

David Wayne Spence’s appeals were not successful, and in April 1997 he was executed for his role in the killings.

Following the convictions of Spence and Deeb, some began to question the substance of the evidence on which the convictions had been based and the methods through which it had been obtained. Forensic odontologist Homer Campbell was proven to have made false assessments at around the same time, and when a blind panel examined the alleged bite marks and a mold of Spence's teeth, two matched them to a Kansas housewife, and the other three could not match them to anyone's teeth. Three of the seven people who said Spence confessed later stated that Simons had offered them privileges in order to secure their testimony, including one that said he had fed her info on what to say. Spence's lawyers also discovered an alternate suspect in Terry Harper, a local thug with a history of knife-related offenses. Witnesses testified to seeing Harper in the park on the night of the murders, and others claimed that he had boasted of committing the murders. Also, one of the victims, Kenneth Franks, was later alleged to have been an associate of Harper's in the drug trade. When Harper was interviewed by Spence's lawyers, he claimed that he was at home watching Dynasty; records showed that Dynasty did not air that night. Brian Pardo, a wealthy Texas businessman, met Spence a few months prior to his execution and, on becoming convinced of his innocence, launched a campaign to delay his death sentence so that a new trial could be commenced. His efforts were unsuccessful, but they brought attention to the case following Spence’s execution.

Bob Herbert wrote a series of articles for The New York Times in 1997, with headlines such as “The Wrong Man” and “The Impossible Crime,” in which he claimed that the case had been “cobbled […] together from the fabricated and often preposterous testimony of inmates who were granted all manner of favors in return.”

4. Timothy John Evans

Top 10 Innocent People Executed in History
Photo: Bugged Space

Timothy John Evans (20 November 1924 – 9 March 1950) was a Welshman who was wrongfully accused of murdering his wife (Beryl) and infant daughter (Geraldine) at their residence in Notting Hill, London. In January 1950, Evans was tried and convicted for the murder of his daughter; he was executed by hanging in March of the same year.

During his trial, Evans accused his downstairs neighbour, John Christie, who was the chief prosecution witness, of committing the murders. Three years after Evans's execution, Christie was found to be a serial killer who had murdered several other women in the same house, including his own wife (Ethel). Before his execution, Christie confessed to murdering Mrs. Evans. An official inquiry concluded in 1966 that whilst Evans had probably murdered his wife (Beryl), Christie had probably murdered Evans's daughter (Geraldine), and Evans was granted a posthumous pardon.

The case generated much controversy and is acknowledged to be a miscarriage of justice. Along with those of Derek Bentley and Ruth Ellis, the case played a major part in the abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom for murder in 1965.

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3. Mahmood Hussein Mattan

Top 10 Innocent People Executed in History
Photo: BBC

Mahmood Hussein Mattan (1923 – 3 September 1952) was a Somali former merchant seaman who was wrongfully convicted of the murder of Lily Volpert on 6 March 1952. The murder took place in the Docklands area of Cardiff, Wales, and Mattan was mainly convicted on the evidence of a single prosecution witness. Mattan was executed in 1952 and his conviction was quashed 45 years later on 24 February 1998, his case being the first to be referred to the Court of Appeal by the newly formed Criminal Cases Review Commission.

Lily Volpert, a 42-year-old woman who owned a general outfitter's shop in the Cardiff Docklands area, was murdered on the evening of 6 March 1952. After closing the shop at around 8.05 p.m., she was about to have supper with her family in the back room when the doorbell rang. Her sister and mother saw a man outside the shop door and Lily went to deal with him. A few minutes later her niece saw her talking to an apparently different man at the door. Soon afterwards her body was found in the shop by another customer. Her throat had been cut with a razor or sharp knife, and it seemed that at least £100 (equivalent to £2,899 in 2019) had been stolen.

The Cardiff City Police investigated a number of local men, including Mattan. About two hours after the murder two detectives visited his lodgings and questioned him. They searched his room but discovered nothing suspicious. There was no evidence of any blood-stained clothing, the missing money or anything that could have been the murder weapon. Later, other witnesses contradicted Mattan's alibi and the police interrogated him at length, and organised an identification parade attended by Lily Volpert's sister, mother and niece, but they did not identify him.

Mary Tolley later made a further statement in which she said she had not seen Mattan leave the shop. The police suggested that Mattan had hidden and murdered Lily Volpert immediately after the two women had left. They suppressed Tolley's earlier detailed statement which had not mentioned anyone being there. They also suppressed the original statements of Lily's family, which implied that she had been seen at the door twice after that. They then argued that this had happened earlier, before the women arrived.

Mattan was refused leave to appeal and to call further evidence in August 1952, and the Home Secretary decided he would not be reprieved. On 3 September 1952, six months after the murder of Volpert, he was hanged at Cardiff Prison. He was the last person to be hanged at the prison.

The first attempt to overturn Mattan's conviction came in 1969 after Harold Cover's conviction for attempted murder had raised concerns about the case in Cardiff. But the Home Secretary James Callaghan decided not to reopen the case. By this stage, three years had passed since the death penalty's abolition.

In 1996 the family was given permission to have Mattan's body exhumed and moved from a felon's grave at the prison to be buried in consecrated ground in a Cardiff cemetery. His tombstone says: "KILLED BY INJUSTICE."

When the Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up in the mid 1990s, Mattan's case was the first to be referred by it. On 24 February 1998 the Court of Appeal came to the judgement that the original case was, in the words of Lord Justice Rose, "demonstrably flawed". The family were awarded £725,000 compensation, to be shared equally among Mattan's wife and three children. The compensation was the first award to a family for a person wrongfully hanged.

2. Ruben Cantu

Photo: Houston Chronicle
Photo: Houston Chronicle

Ruben Montoya Cantu (December 5, 1966 – August 24, 1993) was a Texan who was executed for a murder committed when he was 17 years old. During the years following the conviction, the surviving victim, the co-defendant, the district attorney, and the jury forewoman have made public statements that cast doubt on Cantu's guilty verdict.

The prosecution's case at the trial that convicted Ruben Cantu is summarized as follows: On the night of November 8, 1984 at approximately 11:30 p.m., Ruben Cantu (age 17 at the time) and his friend David Garza (15), broke into a vacant San Antonio house under construction at 605 Briggs Street, and robbed two Hispanic males at gunpoint. The two victims, Pedro Gomez (25 or 35) and Juan Moreno (19), had been workmen sleeping on floor mattresses at a construction site, guarding against burglary, as a water heater had been recently stolen from the work site. The two victims were sleeping in their work clothes, with their pockets full of their cash earnings at the time of the robbery. Cantu and Garza were carrying a rifle, which they used to rob the two men of their wristwatches. As they tried to take their cash, they were interrupted by Gomez's attempt to retrieve a pistol hidden under his mattress. Gomez was shot at least nine times by the boys' rifle, dying instantly, and Moreno was also shot as many as nine times by the same rifle. Thinking they had killed both men, the two teens then fled the scene. Juan Moreno survived the attack, and was able to leave the house and call for help shortly after the event, though he lost one lung, one kidney, and part of his stomach.

Short on leads other than Moreno's description of two Latinos aged roughly 14 and 19, a neighborhood beat officer passed along a rumor from the halls of South San Antonio High School, where Cantu was in ninth grade. A shop teacher reported that three kids had been involved in the robbery and murder and that students were saying Cantu had done the killing. Questioned just before his arrest, Garza identified Cantu, saying he "saw Ruben come running out of the house" according to a detective's notes. The key trial witness, however, was Juan Moreno, the shooting survivor, who repeatedly identified Ruben Cantu in court.

A decade after Cantu was executed, Moreno recanted his story as did Garza.

According to Juan Moreno, and consistent with police records, he was visited by police in the hospital the day after the shooting. But, due to the severity of his wounds, he was unable to speak and could barely move. Five days later, in a second interview, Moreno was shown a number of photos. Cantu's photo was not included and Moreno did not identify any of the people shown in the photos. On December 16, detectives visited Moreno a third time and showed him another array of five photos, including one of Ruben Cantu, who lived across the street from Moreno's job site where the crime occurred. He did not identify Ruben or anyone else from the photos shown to him during that police interview.

The case went cold, and no suspect was arrested. About four months after the robbery-murder, Cantu shot Joe De La Luz, an off-duty, plainclothes police officer, at the Scabaroo Lounge, a bar near Cantu's home. According to Cantu, the officer threatened him, revealing his concealed weapon, provoking Cantu (who was also armed) to fire at De La Luz whom he did not know was a police officer. According to De La Luz, he was shot four times by Cantu despite no provocation.

Officer De La Luz survived the shooting and a friend of his who worked homicide, Sgt. Bill Ewell, decided to immediately reopen the murder investigation against Ruben Cantu. On the following day, Sgt. Ewell sent an investigator to Juan Moreno a fourth time, this time showing Cantu's photo along with four others. Again, Juan Moreno did not identify Cantu as one of his attackers. But he did provide Cantu's name. One day later, a third homicide detective picked up Moreno (an illegal immigrant from Mexico at the time), drove him to the police station, sat him down and showed him the same group of photos that included Cantu. On that third attempt, Moreno positively identified the photo of Cantu as being one of his attackers.

Years later Moreno said that the person who shot him had very curly hair and that he was never shown a photo of the real shooter.

David Garza, Cantu's codefendant, has since admitted involvement in the burglary, assault and murder. He says he did go inside the house with another boy, did participate in the robbery, and saw the murder take place, but that his accomplice was not Ruben Cantu. According to Garza, the real murderer was an elementary school friend of Cantu. This person, whose only criminal record is a single misdemeanor domestic assault conviction, denied that he had anything to do with the robbery and murder when he was interviewed by the Houston Chronicle in 2005.

Shortly after being convicted by a jury of first degree murder and sentenced, Cantu wrote a note to the people of San Antonio saying: "I have been framed in a capital murder case. I was framed because I shot an off-duty police officer named Joe De La Luz."

On August 24, 1993, at 22 minutes after midnight, at the age of 26, Cantu died by lethal injection, becoming the fifth juvenile offender to be executed by Texas. His final request was for a piece of bubble gum, which was denied. Asked if he had a last statement, he said "No, sir."

1. Carlos DeLuna

At his trial, Carlos DeLuna (left) maintained that Carlos Hernandez (right) had committed the murder, but the prosecution and courts asserted that Mr. Hernandez was a “phantom” person. Photo: Innocence Project
At his trial, Carlos DeLuna (left) maintained that Carlos Hernandez (right) had committed the murder, but the prosecution and courts asserted that Mr. Hernandez was a “phantom” person. Photo: Innocence Project

On Dec. 7, 1989, Carlos DeLuna, a young Latino man, was executed for the 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, an employee at a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas, despite maintaining his innocence. He was just 27 years old.

On the night of Feb. 4, 1983, Ms. Lopez, a 24-year-old employee at a Sigmor Shamrock gas station, called police to report a suspicious individual with a knife. While on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, Ms. Lopez attempted to give the individual — whom she described as Hispanic — money in an effort to get him to leave the station’s convenience store. Seventy-seven seconds into the call, she let out a scream.

Law enforcement arrived at the scene shortly after to find a witness tending to Ms. Lopez, who had been stabbed twice. The witness described Ms. Lopez’s attacker to an officer as a mustachioed Hispanic man in a flannel jacket and a grey sweatshirt. As police began their manhunt for a suspect matching this description, a couple nearby told the same officer that they had seen a man in a different outfit running about two blocks away from the gas station. The second description was shared with other authorities as that of a second possible suspect.

Amid a chaotic manhunt for the two men described by witnesses, police received multiple calls from neighborhood residents about a man hiding underneath a pickup truck. Police followed the tip and found Mr. DeLuna, whom eyewitnesses later identified as Ms. Lopez’s murderer during a highly suggestive identification procedure.

At his trial in July 1983, Mr. DeLuna insisted that Ms. Lopez had been murdered by his acquaintance, Carlos Hernandez. But prosecutors rejected Mr. DeLuna’s claim without conducting a thorough search for Mr. Hernandez. Instead, they accused Mr. DeLuna of blaming the murder on a “phantom” person. The jury eventually sided with the prosecution, convicted Mr. DeLuna, and sentenced him to death. Despite Mr. DeLuna’s subsequent appeals, the courts upheld his conviction and death sentence, essentially reaffirming that Mr. Hernandez did not exist. In 1989, Mr. DeLuna died by lethal injection.

Evidence uncovered years after Mr. DeLuna’s execution reveals not only that Mr. Hernandez existed, but that he was well-known to police and prosecutors at the time of trial.

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