Death Penalty and Death Row in USA

Fight the Death
Penalty in USA

Wrongful sentenced to death

Wrongful convicted take center stage at death penalty forum
CNN Correspondent Patty Davis, November 15, 1998

Dozens of former death row inmates attended Northwestern University's conference on wrongful convictions Saturday.
More than 30 former death row inmates who were wrongly convicted gathered Saturday to attend what is believed to be the largest conference on capital punishment since the Supreme Court reinstated it in 1976.
The former inmates took center stage at the first National Conference on Wrongful Convictions and the Death Penalty at Northwestern University law school. The conference attracted more than 1,000 lawyers, academics and anti-death penalty advocates.

One by one, the wrongly convicted stepped onto the stage before the audience and read similar statements about their lives.

"My name is Joseph Burrows," said one man. "The state of Illinois sought to kill me for a murder a did not commit. I was put on death row in 1989. I was released in 1994. If the state had its way, I'd be dead today."

After reading their statements, each placed a sunflower in a vase to symbolize their life regained, then took a seat amid thunderous applause.

Conference organizers have identified 73 men and two women whose death sentences have been reversed and who have been released since the Supreme Court ruled capital punishment was constitutional.
Some of the wrongfully convicted have dedicated their newly found freedom to reversing the 1976 ruling.

Rolando Cruz served on death row in Illinois after he was twice convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicario

"I prayed in the morning I would be able to sleep at night, I prayed at night I would be able to wake up in the morning," Cruz said of his ordeal on death row.

Cruz was set free after four county police officers and three prosecutors were indicted for allegedly lying and concealing evidence in the case. Another man, a convicted child killer, later confessed to the crime.
Today, Cruz keeps a framed copy of the death warrant against him in his home as a reminder of his new mission in life.

"I know my path in life leads to straighten out this judicial system, I have to," Cruz told the conference.
"I am who I am today because of what they did to me."

Advocates: 'Only the guilty are executed'

In addition to the former death row inmates, some 160 speakers attended the conference. Professor Anthony Amsterdam of New York University School of Law argued the landmark 1972 Supreme Court case Furman vs. Georgia, which led to the abolishment of the death penalty until the court reversed course four years later.

"It is those stories ... which are the crucial histories for us to hear and remember and to insist that the people of this country hear," he said.

But death penalty advocates say that despite such glaring mistakes by the justice system, not one innocent person has been executed since 1976.

"Only the guilty are being executed. This is an attempt on the part of people with agendas to weaken public support for the death penalty," said Robert Pambianco of the Washington Legal Foundation, which supports capital punishment.

The death penalty is on the books in 38 states, as well as the federal government and the military. Nearly 500 people have been put to death since 1976 and more than 3,500 are on death row as of October 1, according to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

List of people released from Death Row
In each of the 75 cases listed below, an individual was convicted and sentenced to death for a crime he or she did not commit. These individuals were later released from death row after being deemed factually innocent by a court official or after charges were dropped due to overwhelming evidence of innocence.

1. David Keaton (Florida, Convicted 1971, Released 1973) Sentenced to death for murdering an off-duty deputy sheriff during a robbery. Charges were dropped and he was released after the actual killer was convicted.

2. Samuel A. Poole (North Carolina, Convicted 1973, Released 1974) After being convicted of first degree burglary and given a mandatory death sentence, Poole had his conviction overturned by the N.C. Supreme Court because the case lacked substantial evidence that he was the person who broke into the home.

3. James Creamer (Georgia, Convicted 1973, Released 1975) Sentenced to death for a murder allegedly committed with six other individuals. After an investigation by the Atlanta Constitution, a federal judge declared that the prosecution had withheld and destroyed evidence, a witness admitted she had lied in court, and another man confessed to the crimes. The convictions against all seven men were overturned, and charges were later dropped.

4. Wilbert Lee (Florida, Convicted 1963, Released 1975)

5. Freddie Pitts (Florida, Convicted 1963, Released 1975) Lee and Pitts were convicted of a double murder and sentenced to death. They were released when they received a full pardon from Governor Askew because of their innocence. Another man confessed to the killings.

6. Thomas Gladish (New Mexico, Convicted 1974, Released 1976)

7. Richard Greer (New Mexico, Convicted 1974, Released 1976)

8. Ronald Keine (New Mexico, Convicted 1974, Released 1976)

9. Clarence Smith (New Mexico, Convicted 1974, Released 1976) These four were convicted of murder, kidnaping, sodomy, and rape and were sentenced to death. They were released after a drifter admitted to the killings and a newspaper investigation uncovered lies by the prosecution's star witness.

10. Delbert Tibbs (Florida, Convicted 1974, Released 1977) Sentenced to death for the rape of a sixteen-year-old and the murder of her companion. The conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court because the verdict was not supported by the weight of the evidence. Tibbs' former prosecutor said that the original investigation had been tainted from the beginning.

11. Earl Charles (Georgia, Convicted 1975, Released 1978) Convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to death. He was released when evidence was found that substantiated his alibi. After an investigation, the district attorney announced that he would not retry the case. Charles won a substantial settlement from city officials for misconduct in the original investigation.

12. Jonathan Treadway (Arizona, Convicted 1975, Released 1978) Convicted of sodomy and first degree murder of a six-year-old and sentenced to death. He was acquitted of all charges at retrial by the jury after 5 pathologists testified that the victim probably died of natural causes and that there was no evidence of sodomy.

13. Gary Beeman (Ohio, Convicted 1976, Released 1979) Convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. Acquitted at retrial when evidence showed that the true killer was the main prosecution witness at the first trial.

14. Jerry Banks (Georgia, Convicted 1975, Released 1980) Sentenced to death for two counts of murder. The conviction was overturned because the prosecution knowingly withheld exculpatory evidence. Banks committed suicide after his wife divorced him. His estate won a settlement from the county for the benefit of his children.

15. Larry Hicks (Indiana, Convicted 1978, Released 1980) Convicted on two counts of murder and sentenced to death. He was acquitted at retrial when witnesses confirmed his alibi and when the eyewitness' testimony from the first trial was proven to be perjured.

16. Charles Ray Giddens (Oklahoma, Convicted 1978, Released 1981) Conviction and death sentence reversed by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on the grounds of insufficient evidence and the charges were dropped.

17. Michael Linder (South Carolina, Convicted 1979, Released 1981) Acquitted at retrial on the grounds of self-defense.

18. Johnny Ross (Louisiana, Convicted 1975, Released 1981) Sentenced to death for rape. He was released when his blood type was found to be inconsistent with that of the rapist's.

19. Anibal Jarramillo (Florida, Convicted 1981, Released 1982) Sentenced to death for two counts of first degree murder. He was released when the Florida Supreme Court ruled the evidence did not sustain the conviction.

20. Lawyer Johnson (Massachusetts, Convicted 1971, Released 1982) Sentenced to death for first degree murder. The charges were dropped when a previously silent eyewitness came forward and implicated the state's chief witness as the actual killer.

21. Anthony Brown (Florida, Convicted 1983, Released 1986) Convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. At the retrial, the state's chief witness admitted that this testimony at the first trial had been perjured and Brown was acquitted.

22. Neil Ferber (Pennsylvania, Convicted 1982, Released 1986) Convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. He was released at the request of the state's attorney when new evidence showed that the conviction was based on the perjured testimony of a jail-house informant.

23. Joseph Green Brown (Florida, Convicted 1974, Released 1987) Charges were dropped after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the prosecution had knowingly allowed false testimony to be introduced at trial. Brown came within 13 hours of execution.

24. Perry Cobb (Illinois, Convicted 1979, Released 1987)

25. Darby (Williams) Tillis (Illinois, Convicted 1979, Released 1987) Convicted and sentenced to death for a double murder. They were acquitted at retrial when an assistant state's attorney came forward and destroyed the credibility of the state's chief witness.

26. Henry Drake (Georgia, Convicted 1977, Released 1987) Re-sentenced to a life sentence at his second retrial. Six months later, the parole board freed him, convinced he was exonerated by his alleged accomplice and by testimony from the medical examiner.

27. John Henry Knapp (Arizona, Convicted 1974, Released 1987) Originally sentenced to death for the arson murder of his two children. He was released after new evidence about the cause of the fire prompted the judge to order a new trial. His third trial in 1991 resulted in a hung jury. Knapp was again released in 1992 after an agreement with the prosecutors in which he pleaded no contest to second degree murder. He steadfastly maintained his innocence.

28. Vernon McManus (Texas, Convicted 1977, Released 1987) After a new trial was ordered, the prosecution dropped the charges when a key witness refused to testify.

29. Anthony Ray Peek (Florida, Convicted 1978, Released 1987) Convicted of murder and sentenced to death. His conviction was overturned when expert testimony was shown to be false. He was acquitted at his second retrial.

30. Juan Ramos (Florida, Convicted 1983, Released 1987) Sentenced to death for rape and murder. The decision was vacated by the Florida Supreme Court because of improper use of evidence. At his retrial, he was acquitted.

31. Robert Wallace (Georgia, Convicted 1980, Released 1987) Sentenced to death for the slaying of a police officer. The 11th Circuit ordered a retrial because Wallace had not been competent to stand trial. He was acquitted at the retrial because it was found that the shooting was accidental.

32. Jerry Bigelow (California, Convicted 1980, Released 1988) Convicted of murder and sentenced to death after acting as his own attorney. His conviction was overturned by the California Supreme Court and he was acquitted at retrial.

33. Willie Brown (Florida, Convicted 1983, Released 1988)

34. Larry Troy (Florida, Convicted 1983, Released 1988) Originally sentenced to death after being accused of stabbing a fellow prisoner, they were released when the evidence showed that the main witness at the trial had perjured himself.

35. William Jent (Florida, Convicted 1980, Released 1988)

36. Earnest Miller (Florida, Convicted 1980, Released 1988) A federal district court ordered a new trial because of suppression of exculpatory evidence. They were released immediately after agreeing to plead guilty to second degree murder. They repudiated their plea upon leaving the courtroom and were later awarded compensation by the Pasco County Sheriff's Department because of official errors.

37. Randall Dale Adams (Texas, Conviction: 1977, Released 1989) He was ordered to be released pending a new trial by the Texas Court of Appeals. The prosecutors did not seek a new trial due to substantial evidence of Adam's innocence. Subject of the movie, The Thin Blue Line.

38. Jesse Keith Brown (South Carolina, Convicted 1983, Released 1989) The conviction was reversed twice by the state Supreme Court. At the third trial, he was acquitted of the capital charge but convicted of related robbery charges.

39. Robert Cox (Florida, Convicted 1988, Released 1989) Released by a unanimous decision of the Florida Supreme Court on the basis of insufficient evidence.

40. Timothy Hennis (North Carolina, Convicted 1986, Released 1989) Convicted on three counts of murder and sentenced to death. The North Carolina Supreme Court granted a retrial because of the use of inflammatory evidence. At retrial, Hennis was acquitted.

41. James Richardson (Florida, Convicted 1968, Released 1989) Released after re-examination of the case by Janet Reno of the Miami State's Attorney's office which concluded he was innocent.

42. Clarence Brandley (Texas, Convicted 1980, Released 1990) Awarded a new trial when evidence showed prosecutorial suppression of exculpatory evidence and perjury by prosecution witnesses. All charges were dropped. Brandley is the subject of the book White Lies by Nick Davies.

43. Patrick Croy (California, Convicted 1979, Released 1990) Conviction overturned by state Supreme Court because of improper jury instructions. Acquitted at retrial after arguing self-defense.

44. Dale Johnston (Ohio, Convicted 1984, Released 1990) Sentenced to death for the murder of his stepdaughter and her fiancée. His conviction was overturned in 1988 by the Ohio Supreme Court because the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from his defense, and because one witness had been hypnotized. The state later dropped the charges.

45. John C. Skelton (Texas, Convicted 1982, Released 1990) Convicted of killing a man by exploding dynamite in his pick-up truck. The conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals due to insufficient evidence.

46. Gary Nelson (Georgia, Convicted 1980, Released 1991) Nelson was released after a review of the prosecutor's files revealed that material information had been improperly withheld from the defense. The county district attorney acknowledged: "There is no material element of the state's case in the original trial which has not subsequently been determined to be impeached or contradicted."

47. Bradley P. Scott (Florida, Convicted 1988, Released 1991) Convicted of murder ten years after the crime. On appeal, he was released by the Florida Supreme Court because of the insufficiency of the evidence.

48. Charles Smith (Indiana, Convicted 1983, Released 1991) Sentence to death for a street robbery and murder of a young woman. The man who claimed to be the getaway driver had his charges dropped in exchange for testifying against Smith. The Indiana Supreme Court overturned his conviction in 1989 because of ineffective assistance of counsel. He was acquitted at re-trial after presenting evidence that witnesses against him had lied under oath.

49. Jay C. Smith (Pennsylvania, Convicted 1986, Released 1992) A former high school principal who was convicted of the 1979 murder of 3 people, though his death sentence was later reduce to life. He was freed after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the prosecution had withheld crucial evidence, calling the state's action "egregious" misconduct.

50. Kirk Bloodsworth (Maryland, Convicted 1984, Released 1993) Convicted and sentenced to death for the rape and murder of a young girl. He was granted a new trial and given a life sentence. He was released after subsequent DNA testing confirmed his innocence.

51. Muneer Deeb (Texas, Convicted 1985, Released 1993) Deeb was originally sentenced to death for allegedly contracting with three hitmen to kill his ex-girlfriend. He consistently claimed no involvement in the crime. Deeb's conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1991 because improper evidence had been admitted at his first trial. He was retried and acquitted.

52. Federico M. Macias (Texas, Convicted 1984, Released 1993) Convicted for the slaying of Robert Haney. He was granted a writ of habeas corpus because of ineffective assistance of counsel and possible innocence. A grand jury refused to re-indict because of lack of evidence.

53. Walter (Johnny D.) McMillian (Alabama, Convicted 1988, Released 1993) Conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. He was freed after three witnesses recanted their testimony and prosecutors agreed the case had been mishandled.

54. James Robison (Arizona, Convicted 1977, Released 1993) Convicted of murder and conspiracy in 1977 in the death of a reporter, Don Bolles. His conviction was overturned in 1980, but he was recharged with the offense in 1990. He was acquitted at retrial in December 1993.

55. Gregory R. Wilhoit (Oklahoma, Convicted 1987, Released 1993) Convicted of killing his estranged wife while she slept. His conviction was overturned and he was released in 1991 when 11 forensic experts testified that a bite mark found on his dead wife did not belong to him. The appeals court also found ineffective assistance of counsel. He was acquitted at retrial in April 1993.

56. Joseph Burrows (Illinois, Convicted 1989, Released 1994) No physical evidence linked Burrows to the murder of William Dulin. The prosecution's two chief witnesses recanted their testimony against Burrows, and one of them confessed to the murder for which Burrows had been sent to death row. One of the witnesses said he had been coerced by prosecutors and police. Burrows was released, and the Illinois appellate courts have upheld the overturning of his conviction.

57. Andrew Golden (Florida, Convicted 1991, Released 1994) A high school teacher in Florida convicted of murdering his wife. His conviction was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 1993. The court held that the state had failed to prove that the victim's death was anything but an accident. Golden was released into the waiting arms of his sons on January 6, 1994.

58. Clarence Smith (Louisiana, Convicted 1985, Released 1994) Smith's conviction was overturned by the state Supreme Court because the jury was improperly instructed. He was acquitted at a retrial and released. The principal witnesses at both trials were two convicts with a long list of crimes who were given immunity and plea bargains in exchange for their testimony.

59. Sabrina Butler (Mississippi, Convicted 1990, Released 1995) Sentenced to death for the murder of her nine-month-old child. When she found her baby not breathing, she performed CPR and took him to the hospital. She was interrogated by the police and then prosecuted. Her conviction was overturned by the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1992. Upon re-trial, she was acquitted on December 17, 1995 after a very brief jury deliberation. It is now believed that the baby may have died either of cystic kidney disease or from SIDS.

60. Robert Charles Cruz (Arizona, Convicted 1981, Released 1995) Cruz was charged with planning the killing of two people in Phoenix in 1980. He went through five trials, including two convictions and two mistrials, before his acquittal on June 1, 1995. The chief prosecution witness, a convicted burglar and former drug dealer, was given immunity for his testimony.

61. Rolando Cruz (Illinois, Convicted 1985, Released 1995) Sentenced to death with Alejandro Hernandez for the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico. Granted a new trial by the Illinois Supreme Court, he was re-tried in 1990 and again sentenced to death even though another man, Brian Dugan, had confessed to the crime. At his third trial, the judge entered a directed verdict of not guilty before the defense ever put on its case. Three prosecutors and four law enforcement officials involved in the prosecution of the case have been indicted for obstruction of justice.

62. Alejandro Hernandez (Illinois, Convicted 1985, Released 1995) Sentenced to death with Rolando Cruz for the 1983 murder of Jeanine Nicarico. He was retried in 1990, but the trial ended in a hung jury. The third trial in 1991 resulted in an 80 year prison sentence. The conviction was overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court in 1995. Only his own indirect statements, no physical evidence, linked Hernandez, who is borderline retarded, to the crime. He was released on bond and charges were subsequently dropped after his co-defendant's acquittal. The U.S. Department of Justice is considering an investigation of civil rights violations in this case.

63. Adolph Munson (Oklahoma, Convicted 1985, Released 1995) Conviction was unanimously overturned by Oklahoma's highest criminal appeals court because the state withheld material evidence tending to exonerate Munson. Some of the forensic evidence at trial was provided by Dr. Ralph Erdmann, who was subsequently convicted of seven felony counts involving misrepresentation of facts in other cases and stripped of his license. Munson was acquitted at retrial.

64. Verneal Jimerson (Illinois, Convicted 1985, Released 1996) Sentenced to death for a 1978 murder of a young couple (see also Dennis Williams). Paula Gray, the chief witness against him, had an IQ of 57. She later recanted her entire testimony, saying the police forced her to lie. The original charges were dismissed but were resurrected 7 years later when the police offered to drop charges against Gray if she would implicated Jimerson. Gray's 50 year sentence was converted to 2 years probation. In 1995, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously reversed Jimerson's conviction based on Gray's false testimony. He was released on bond and the charges against him were subsequently dropped.

65. Gary Gauger (Illinois, Convicted 1993, Released 1996) Convicted of killing his parents in April 1993. After the murder of his parents Gauger was interrogated for eighteen hours without a lawyer and without food or sleep. In March 1996, the U.S. District Court overturned his conviction, ruling that authorities never had probable cause to even arrest Gauger or subject him to 21 hours of intensive questioning. He was released in October 1996 by the same judge that had sentenced him to die by lethal injection. His sentence had earlier been reduced to life in prison. The prosecution did not challenge his release.

66. Troy Lee Jones (California, Convicted 1982, Released 1996) The California Supreme Court granted Jones a new trial because he was not adequately defended at his original murder trial. The Court found his attorney failed to conduct an adequate investigation, speak with possible witnesses, obtain relevant police reports or seek pre-trial investigative funds. Moreover, the attorney elicited damaging testimony against his own client during cross-examination of a witness. Six months later, the prosecution announced it was dropping all charges against Jones.

67. Carl Lawson (Illinois, Convicted 1990, Released 1996) Convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Terrence Jones in a family dispute. He was tried three times. The first conviction was overturned, in part because Lawson's public defender had been an assistant prosecutor when Lawson was arrested. The second trial ended in a hung jury, 11-1 for acquittal. At his third trial, Lawson was acquitted.

68. Roberto Miranda (Nevada, Convicted 1982, Released 1996) Released after the prosecution declined to retry him following the reversal of his conviction. Miranda maintained his innocence throughout his 14 years on death row. Prosecutors originally offered him a plea bargain whereby he would serve as little as 10 years in prison, but he refused because he was innocent. At trial, he was represented by an attorney with one year's experience who had inherited the case when his colleague died. In overturning his conviction, the judge wrote: "The lack of pretrial preparation by trial counsel...cannot be justified."

69. Dennis Williams (Illinois, Convicted 1979, Released 1996) Convicted along with three others (see Verneal Jimerson) for the 1978 murder of a young couple. After 18 years in prison, Williams was released because new evidence showed that all four men were wrongly convicted. Much of the investigative work which led to their release was done by three journalism students. Recent DNA tests indicate that none of the four men were involved in the crime, and another man has confessed to the murder. Charges were dropped and the Cook County State's Attorney apologized to these four men.

70. Ricardo Aldape Guerra (Texas, Convicted 1982, Released 1997 Sentenced to death for the murder of a police officer in Houston. Federal District Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled on November 15, 1994 that Guerra should either be retried in 30 days or released, stating that the actions of the police and prosecutors in this case were "outrageous," "intentional," and "done in bad faith." He further said that their misconduct "was designed and calculated to obtain...another notch in their guns." Judge Hoyt's ruling was unanimously upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals. A new trial was granted to Guerra, but the D.A. dropped the charges instead. Guerra was released and returned to his native country of Mexico where he was killed in a car accident in August 1997.

71. Benjamin Harris (Washington, Convicted 1985, Released 1997) The U.S. Court of Appeals vacated Harris' conviction because his original trial lawyer was incompetent. Harris maintains his innocence and says he was framed for the 1984 murder of Jimmie Turner. Harris' attorney interviewed only 3 of the 32 witnesses listed in police reports and spent less than 2 hours consulting with Harris before trial. His co-defendant was acquitted. The prosecution decided not to retry Harris but tried to have him confined as insane. They had previously argued that he was competent to stand trial. A jury decided that Harris should not be detained at a state hospital.

72. Robert Hayes (Florida, Convicted 1991, Released 1997) Convicted of the rape and murder of a co-worker based partly on faulty DNA evidence. The Florida Supreme Court threw out Hayes' conviction and the DNA evidence in 1995. The victim had been found clutching hairs, probably from her assailant. The hairs were from a white man, and Hayes is black. Hayes was acquitted at retrial.

73. Randall Padgett (Alabama, Convicted 1992, Released 1997) Convicted of murdering his estranged wife in 1990 and sentenced to death. The conviction was overturned by the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in 1995, and Padgett was acquitted at retrial. There was some evidence presented that another woman committed the crime.

74. Curtis Kyles (Louisiana, Convicted 1984, Released 1998) Kyles' conviction was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court because the prosecution had withheld material evidence. His successful appeal was in the form of a federal habeas corpus petition since he had lost all appeals in state court. The state withheld considerable information about a paid informant who may have been the actual murderer. Subsequent retrials ended in hung juries with the majority voting for acquittal. After the fifth hung jury, the prosecutor finally dropped all charges.

75. Robert Lee Miller, Jr. (Oklahoma, Convicted 1988, Released 1998) Convicted of the rape and murder of two elderly women. However, recent DNA evidence pointed to another defendant who was already incarcerated on similar charges. The conviction was overturned in 1995, and Miller was granted a new trial. An Oklahoma County Special Judge dismissed charges against Miller saying there was not enough evidence to justify his continued imprisonment. The prosecution finally decided to drop charges, and Miller was freed.

76. Curtis Kyles, Black, LA, Convicted 1984, released 1998

77. Shareef Cousin, Black, LA, Convicted 1996, released 1999

78. Anthony Porter, Black, IL, Convicted 1983, released 1999

79. Steven Smith, Black, IL, Convicted 1985, released 1999

80. Ronald Williamson, White, OK, Convicted 1988, released 1999

81. Ronald Jones, Black, IL, Convicted 1989, released 1999

82. Clarence Dexter, Jr., White, MO, Convicted 1991, released 1999

83. Warren Manning, Black, SC, Convicted, 1989, released 1999

84. Alfred Rivera, Latino, NC, Convicted 1997, released 1999

85. Steve Manning, White, IL, Convicted 1993, released 1999

86. Eric Clemmons, Black, MO, Convicted 1987, released 1999

87. Joseph N. Green, Jr., Black, FL, Convicted 1993, released 1999


89. William Nieves, PA, convicted 1994, released October 2000

Donald Manuel Paradis, convicted 1980, ID, released April 10, 2001