When the criminal justice system accuses or convicts a person of a crime they did not commit, it is a horrible miscarriage of justice. These famous wrongful conviction cases are horrific and cause an innocent person and their loved ones immense harm, psychologically, financially, and physically.
Most importantly, they may strip the innocent of their freedom, sometimes forever. Here are five situations involving the wrongfully convicted—cases that demonstrate the worst of these situations.
The Central Park 5
The Central Park jogger case, also known as the Central Park Five case, resulted in the wrongful convictions of five young men of color from underprivileged backgrounds. Their alleged crime was attacking and sexually assaulting a white woman who was jogging in New York City’s Central Park.
The nature and location of the crime catapulted this case into the headlines. The media and city leaders placed immense pressure on the judicial system to hold someone accountable. The police soon arrested five young men and charged them with the crime despite a lack of concrete evidence.
Scared and, at times, threatened, most confessed. One young man later said he never spoke to his father again as his father told him to confess so the police could help him, even though he told him he was innocent.
Ultimately the scenarios turned to wrongfully convicted cases. The boys served sentences of many years before the judicial system finally exonerated them after someone else confessed to the crimes.
In later years, the men spoke of their harrowing ordeals, the trauma and abuse they suffered during the process and in prison, and the toll being part of famous wrongful conviction cases still takes on them.
Henry and Leon McCollum
Henry McCollum was 19 years old, and his brother Leon 15 when law enforcement wrongfully charged them with a gruesome crime ending in the death of an 11-year-old. The police interrogated them with no lawyer present for hours on end.
The case never received the notoriety of some others, but many in the legal community consider it one of the worst wrongful conviction cases because it:
- Contained apparent police misconduct;
- Involved two young brothers;
- Failed to find the true killer of a child at the time; and
- Took three decades of life away from two very young men.
In 2014, after nearly 31 years in prison, the court exonerated the two brothers based on DNA evidence.
Duke University Lacrosse Team
The third spot on this troubling list goes to the Duke University Lacrosse Team. Duke University is an elite private institution know for a student body filled with students who are:
- Academically strong,
- From well-off families, and
- Great athletes.
In the early 2000s, members of the men’s lacrosse team at the university were riding high. The team had been incredibly successful. But the 2006 season was cut short when several Duke players were falsely accused of rape.
Like the Central Park 5, the Duke students were all teens or young men. The media coverage of the case was massive, and the public early on turned against the Duke athletes. But the similarities between the cases ends there.
The Duke players were primarily members of well-connected families, and all immediately denied the allegations. Their families hired strong defense attorneys right away and fought back in the media.
While there clearly was evidence that a crime took place in the Central Park 5 case, there was no immediate definitive evidence of an assault in the Duke case. As a result of solid legal representation and eventual scrutiny of the cases’ validity, the prosecutor dropped all charges against the young men.
But the players had already been convicted in the court of public opinion, and the loss of their lacrosse season was the least of the impacts of these wrongfully accused cases.
The Duke accused suffered ongoing public censure and doubt, emotional trauma, notoriety they did not ask for or deserve, and, for some, the inability to continue with their education at Duke. The trauma to them remains.
Wrongful Conviction Cases in California
With nearly 40 million residents, the most populated state in the United States is California. It is also a popular state for tourists with wonderful beaches, movie stars, the golden gate bridge, and beautiful cities such as San Diego.
However, like all states, California has its dark moments, including wrongful conviction cases. Our 4th and 5th famous wrongful conviction cases perpetrated by the US justice system occurred in California.
It really does happen. A person can know the victim, find them injured or dead, report the crime, and then become the suspect of a murder investigation. In Kimberly Long’s story, things then got even worse.
In 2003, Kimberly arrived home and discovered her boyfriend bludgeoned to death in the living room of the home they shared. She immediately called 911. Then, the police charged her with the crime. She pleaded that the police were wrongfully accusing her.
The police did not believe her. They had a witness putting her at the scene, they said, and the case went to a California court. The first jury hung, and nine jurors were in favor of acquittal. The second jury, after allowed a break from deliberations to celebrate Christmas, returned a guilty verdict.
Fast forward 11 years. The justice system found that testimony from the prosecution’s star witness was unreliable. And thanks to forensic pathology evidence, the corrections system released her from prison after a wrongful conviction. Kimberly lost her partner and a decade of her life before justice was served.
Our fifth case involves a child who died while in the San Diego home daycare of Suzanne Johnson. The law did not believe Suzanne’s version of an accidental fall causing the death or her calls for help.
Instead, the police turned the home into a crime scene, and the justice system wrongfully accused and then convicted Suzzane of killing the baby.
The court sentenced her to 25 years to life. She served 21 years before Governor Newsom finally granted her clemency. The updated science of forensic pediatric pathology regarding the diagnosis of “shaken baby syndrome” indicated that Suzanne served over two decades for a crime she didn’t commit.
The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC
If you or someone you know faces a situation of the justice system wrongfully accusing or convicting them of a crime, seek legal representation immediately.
The cases above demonstrate that wrongfully accused cases involve people all over the United States. Wrongful conviction cases involve citizens of every demographic and financial and educational background. Don’t wait. Get an experienced criminal defense attorney now.
The Law Offices of Kerry L. Armstrong, APLC, is a San Diego County criminal defense firm. We provide superior representation to all facing criminal charges, including those wrongfully convicted.