Altogether eight men, all black, have been found innocent of the crimes that put them on Louisiana's death row.
As in many other states, the exonerated are released with no resources.
John Thompson (pictured above, with wife Laverne Thompson), at the age of 22, was arrested and convicted in 1985 of first degree murder and an attempted carjacking three weeks later.
Ray Liuzza, the son of a wealthy white local hotel owner was murdered, there was a huge media and political outcry. The gun used to shoot the 34-year-old businessman and his ring were traced to Thompson who had unwittingly bought them from the real killer – a local man who was later shot dead.
The father-of-two was 24 when he arrived on death row in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison where he would spend the next 14-years in a six-by-nine-foot cell with no windows or air conditioning for 23 hours a day. Over the course of his incarceration seven execution dates came and went. A few days before he was due to receive the lethal injection, an investigator re-examining the carjacking uncovered evidence of an unidentified man’s blood on the clothes of one of the robbery victims, who had fought back. This evidence, which later emerged had been deliberately withheld from the trial, was enough to order a retrial.
At his re-trial on the capital murder charge, Thompson was acquitted in thirty-five minutes by a jury in 2003.
“I had exhausted all of my appeals. My son was going to graduate from high school on 21 May. It was going to be the proudest day of his life and he was going to worry about his father being killed,” -- John Thompson.After his release, John bought a house in the city and set up Resurrection After Exoneration where he welcomes all pardoned prisoners who need help, whether or not they were condemned to death.
The Supreme Court will consider a New Orleans prosecutors' appeal of a $14 million judgment to a former death row inmate who accused them of withholding evidence to help convict him of murder set to go to trial in the fall.
Ryan Matthews and Travis Hayes
were 17-years old when they were arrested in connection with the shooting death of Tommy Vanhoose, a convenience store owner, in Bridge City, Louisiana.
In April 1997, a man wearing a ski mask entered Vanhoose's store and demanded money. When Vanhoose refused, the perpetrator shot him four times and fled, taking off his mask and diving into the passenger side window of an awaiting car.
Matthews and Hayes, were stopped several hours after the crime because the car they were riding in resembled the description of the getaway car. They were arrested and Hayes was then questioned for over six hours. In his initial statements to investigators, Hayes claimed that he and Matthews were not in the area when the crime occurred. Hayes eventually confessed that he was the driver of the getaway car. He stated that Matthews went into the store, shots went off, and Matthews ran out and got into the car. Both boys were described as borderline mentally retarded.
Several eyewitnesses viewed the perpetrator's flight. One witness was in her car and watched the perpetrator run from the store, fire shots in her direction, and leap into a car. When she was later showed a photographic array, she tentatively identified Matthews as the assailant. By the time of trial, she was sure that Matthews was the gunman.
Two other witnesses, in the same car, watched as the perpetrator shed his mask, gloves, and shirt as he fled. The driver claimed to have seen the perpetrator's face in his rearview mirror while he was being shot at and trying to block the escape. This witness and his passenger were brought to a show-up hours later. The driver identified Matthews. His passenger was unable to make an identification.
Matthews had maintained his innocence since arrest. The defense presented evidence that forensic testing of the mask excluded both Matthews and Hayes. A defense expert also testified that the car that the two boys were driving - the reason they were stopped - could not have been the getaway car because the passenger side window that Matthews allegedly jumped through was inoperable and could not be rolled down. Other witnesses to the crime described the shooter as being much shorter than Matthews.
In 1999, Matthews was convicted of murder and was sentenced to die. Hayes was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life.
Continued defense investigation by William Sothern and Clive Stafford Smith of the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center and DNA testing in another murder case proved to be the keys to proving Matthews' innocence. Another murder occurred shortly after Vanhoose's death in the same area. A local resident, Rondell Love, was arrested and pled guilty. Love bragged to other inmates that he also killed Vanhoose, prompting Matthews' attorneys to begin investigating Love. DNA test results from the second murder were compared to results from the Matthews conviction, indicating that Love had been wearing the mask that was left behind in the Vanhoose murder. Testing on the mask, gloves, and shirt had already excluded Matthews and Hayes, but these results became conclusive after Love's profile was included.
Over a year after this information was discovered, Matthews was granted a new trial. He was released in June 2004, on bond, as he awaited a new trial. In August 2004, prosecutors asked the court to lift the bond and vacate the conviction.
Matthews became the 14th death row inmate in the United States proven innocent by post conviction DNA testing.
Heal 26 innocent men freed from Louisiana prisons
On September 28 2012, Damon Thibodeaux was freed from death row in Louisiana after an extensive investigation, including DNA testing and the cooperation of Jefferson Parrish District Attorney Paul Connick. Thibodeaux was sentenced to death for the 1996 rape and murder of his cousin. He at first confessed to the attack after a nine-hour interrogation by detectives. He recanted a few hours later and claimed his confession was coerced. In releasing Thibodeaux, Connick said, "I have concluded that the primary evidence in this case, the confession, is unreliable. Without the confession the conviction can't stand, and therefore in the interest of justice, it must be vacated."
Thibodeaux spent 15 years on death row in Angola. The reinvestigation of the case cost more than $500,000, an expense shared by the defense and prosecution. Regarding his early statement to the police, Thibodeaux noted, "They look for vulnerable points where they can manipulate you, and if you’re sleep-deprived or panicked, or you’re on something or drunk, it makes it that much easier to accomplish what they want to accomplish.... I was willing to tell them anything they wanted me to tell them if it would get me out of that interrogation room.”
was only 16 years old when he was convicted and 17-years old when he was sentenced to death, making him one of the youngest condemned convicts in the U.S. At the time of his sentence he was one of 63 juvenile offenders on death row in prisons around the U.S. Two-thirds of this group are minorities, and two-thirds of their alleged victims were white.
Without a shred of physical evidence, Shareef was convicted of the murder of 25-year-old Michael Gerardi that occurred during a 1995 street robbery in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Gerardi was on a date with Connie Babin on the evening of the murder.
When questioned on the night of the murder, Babin told the police that she did not get a good look at the gunman and probably would not be able to identify him. Babin further stated, in an interview at her house three days later, that she was not wearing her glasses or contact lenses on the night of the murder and could only see patterns and shapes. She described the murderer only as a black male in his late teens, five feet seven or eight inches tall, with curly hair and "old man's face," and wearing colorful socks. Three weeks later, however, Babin positively identified defendant as the gunman from a photographic lineup. The eyewitness testimony by Babin was an important factor in the trial. Babin told the jury she was “absolutely positive” that she had seen Cousin commit the murder despite the fact that Cousin is 4 inches taller.
Detective Anthony Small also listed two additional witnesses that supposedly "positively" identified Shareef as the murderer, but they were never called to testify. It was later found out that the detective had lied to get the warrant.
Cousin had a taped statement given by his basketball coach establishing his alibi, but the prosecution altered the time given on the tape. Three teammates who waited outside the courtroom to testify were not available when the defense attorney went to call them. The defense found out too late that prosecutors had relocated the boys to the DA's air-conditioned office, supposedly to give them relief from the hot weather.
After the murder conviction was overturned and charges were dropped, Cousin remained imprisoned because of a plea bargain he made on minor charges at a time when he felt his future was hopeless. one of Cousin's co-defendant's in an unrelated armed robbery, James Rowell, was called to testify against Cousin. The prosecutor, Roger Jordan, called that Rowell had given a statement to detectives that Cousin had bragged about the murder of Gerardi. However, when Rowell took the stand, he testified that he did not make that statement; rather he, Roger Jordan, told him to get on the stand and say that Cousin bragged to him about a murder. In return, Jordan would give him a deal on his charges.
The case was reversed by the State Supreme Court because of the use of Rowell's statement by the prosecution at trial. The Supreme Court held it was an error for the prosecution to use the statement of Rowell as substantive evidence of guilt when it was actually impeachment testimony. Also, the Court made reference to prosecutorial misconduct by Roger Jordan for withholding exculpatory evidence
For some reason, I've sat here and prayed to the Lord for answers on why this is happening. Since Miss Babin took the stand, I knew I was gonna get found guilty. Down in my heart, I truly believe that the Gerardi family knew I didn't do it, and I know I didn't do it, the Lord knows, y'all know, my defense team knows, the State knows, and everyone else. But that's not the answer. We will never get an answer as to why this is happening to us. But as I write this letter to you, I did not and will not shed a tear. So please don't cry for me or over me. I must go because the Lord awaits me."On September 18, 2007, Shareef Cousin was released on parole and currently works at the Southern Center for Human Rights
--Shareef Cousin, in a letter to his family during jury deliberations at his murder trial
was tried five times for the murder of Delores Dee Dye in 1984.
Curtis Kyles was 24 when he was framed by the actual killer of a 1984 Orleans Parish murder. The true assailant had been seen in the victim's car. He then contacted police telling them that Curtis had sold him the car. At Curtis's initial trial, the prosecution withheld evidence from the defense that could have proven Curtis's innocence, including eyewitness accounts. The prosecution also withheld information about the criminal record of the informant/murderer. Curtis's first trial ended in a hung jury after four hours. At his second trial in 1984, he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. A year and a half after Curtis was convicted, the real killer was himself murdered by his own brother-in-law, but not before he had confessed to numerous friends that he had framed Curtis. In 1995, 11 years after Curtis's conviction and death sentence, his case was overturned by U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court issued a stinging rebuke to the practices of the Orleans Parish District Attorney's Office, and its decision has since helped wrongly convicted prisoners everywhere to more easily bring evidence before the courts.
Even after the Supreme Court threw out Curtis's conviction, the case was remanded for a third trial, which ended in a hung jury, as did fourth and fifth trials. In the end, the District Attorney announced that he would drop all charges against Mr. Kyles who was set free, having once come within 30 hours of scheduled execution. Curtis was wrongly imprisoned for 14 years - 11 on death row - before he was finally released in 1998.
Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans is the book Jed Horne wrote chronicling the unraveling of the case against Curtis Kyles.
(Photo above from Daniel Bolick's exhibition on exonerated prisoners,"Resurrected" at the Westmoreland Museum)
Johnny Ross, who became the nation’s youngest death row inmate at age 16, was convicted of raping a white woman in Louisiana in 1975, and sentenced to death after his 90-minute trial. Ross met with his court appointed attorney one time prior to trial. The prosecution's claim was that Ross had signed a confession after the victim had identified him. Ross maintained that he had signed a blank piece of paper after his interrogators beat him.
Convinced Ross did not receive a fair trial, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Inc. (SPLC) sought a new trial for Ross. Their investigations turned up evidence that the Ross' blood type was not the same as the type in the semen found in the victim. Based on this new evidence, the New Orleans DA agreed to drop charges and Ross was released from prison in 1981. (State v. Ross, 343 So.2d 722 (La. 1977)).
spent nine years in prison (four on death row) for a 1995 Orleans Parish murder that he did not commit. From the beginning the odds were against 26 year old Bright: his attorney did not investigate the case and was drunk during the trial. The District Attorney's office withheld crucial information about the primary witness's criminal record - he was on probation at the time of the murder, making him more susceptible to cooperating with authorities, and he admitted on the stand to being drunk before and during the time of the murder. This was on top of the fact that the FBI had been in possession of the name of the actual killer all along (this was discovered after Bright's conviction).
Because of the woefully bad performance by Bright's defense lawyer and the withholding of evidence by the prosecution and the FBI, the jury sentenced him to death. Brights' sentence was later commuted to life, at which time he made requests to have the identity of the true killer released through the Freedom of Information Act. Citing the real killer's right to privacy, the federal government declined to reveal his name. Some time after IPNO signed on to the case with Bright's existing counsel, Ben Cohen and Clive Stafford Smith, a federal district court judge ruled Bright had the right to know the identity of the true killer. The State Supreme Court reversed his conviction in 2004. Bright's case illustrates the lack of government accountability that beset wrongful conviction cases and the urgent need for reform of the standards to which prosecutors are held.
Bright is now rebuilding his life with the help of IPNO's Exoneree Advocacy Program, and works as a mentor to at-risk youth in New Orleans.
Kathleen Hawk Norman & Dan Bright (left)Kathleen was the foreman of the jury during Dan's trial for murder in 1996. Dan was convicted and the jury passed the death sentence.
After the trial, Kathleen became aware of evidence not presented at the trial that proved Dan's innocence.
She then began a long campaign to have him freed.
Dan was eventually exonerated and freed in 2004.
Very sadly Kathleen died unexpectedly on April 16th, 2009.
spent 14 years, most of his adult life, on death row in Louisiana for the brutal murders of an elderly couple, a crime he did not commit.
Represented at trial by two inexperienced attorneys, one of whom abandoned the case before the sentencing phase, Graham was convicted of murder in 1987.
The case against Graham consisted of three witnesses, who later recanted their testimony, and a prosecution that withheld evidence of his innocence.
In March of 2000, with the help of pro-bono lawyers, Graham won a new trial. He was freed from prison nine months later on December 28th.
After 14 years of wrongful imprisonment, the state of Louisiana gave Graham a $10 check and an overcoat that was five sizes too big. By the time of his release, Graham had spent half of his adult life on death row.
United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary: Testimony of Michael Graham, Freed Death Row Inmate In Support of the Innocence Protection Act June 27, 2001:
My name is Michael Graham. In 1986, I was 22 years old, working as a roofer, and living with my mom and my two little brothers in Virginia Beach. That summer, I met a family from Louisiana and got friendly with their son, Kenneth. They suggested that I return with them to Louisiana for a vacation. I took up their offer.
While down in Louisiana, Kenneth and I got arrested for writing some bad checks. I was no angel back then, but I never physically hurt anyone, and was never accused of hurting anyone. That is, until a couple of months later. While in jail for the bad checks, I was arrested for the brutal murders of an elderly couple. I couldn’t believe it. I told the police that I didn’t know anything about the murders and had never met the couple.
All the time, I was sure that the truth would come out and I would be found innocent. It seems funny now, but I even asked one of my public defenders if he would represent me in my false arrest lawsuit.
My trial was in early 1987. One of my two lawyers had some criminal law experience, but had never tried a death penalty case. My other lawyer had just graduated from law school. The state didn’t have any physical evidence against me. Basically, all it had was three witnesses, including a jailhouse snitch with a history of serious mental illness.
My lawyers had a tough time at the trial. They didn’t investigate the snitch’s deal with the prosecution. They didn’t know the rules of evidence. They didn’t object to a jury instruction that I later learned was totally illegal under Louisiana law. And they did nothing to prepare for my sentencing phase. They didn’t even ask my mother to come down and testify on my behalf. My trial only lasted a few days. When the jury convicted me of capital murder, I was stunned. So was my experienced lawyer, who disappeared. That left my inexperienced lawyer, just out of law school, to handle the sentencing hearing by himself. When the jury sentenced me to death, I could hardly talk - I was in such a state of shock.
A few months later, my co-defendant, Albert Burrell, was also convicted and given a death sentence. I understand that his lawyers were even worse than mine.
I’ll never forget my first night on death row. The night before the state had executed another inmate, and I was given his cell. During the night, I looked down at the floor and completely freaked out. I thought I saw a pool of blood. It turned out to be rusty water.
That pretty much set the tone for the next fourteen years. I spent 23 hours a day in my 5 by 10 foot cell, alone. I was allowed out one hour a day to shower and walk up and down my tier. Three times a week I could go outside and spend an hour by myself in an exercise yard. Whenever I left my tier, my hands and legs were shackled. Everyone in my world was either a prison guard who considered me an animal or a condemned man. The guards told me when to wake up and when to go to sleep, and just gave me a few minutes to eat.
I tried not to go crazy by reading and praying to the Lord. I also passed the time by trying to keep up on my case and what was happening in the outside world. I studied for a GED, but the prison ended the program right before I was going to take the test.
Each day I would beg the Lord to make sure nothing happened to my family. My family is poor and my mother was only able to visit me twice. My brothers never made it down. The Lord answered my prayers. But my co-defendant wasn’t so fortunate. Albert’s mother died while we were on death row. One of the guards told me that telling Albert his mother was dead was one of the hardest things he ever did.
As in many cases, there was no DNA evidence to exonerate me and Albert. But we were two of the lucky ones. We both had pro bono lawyers who worked their tails off for us and stuck with our cases for many years. If we had depended on state lawyers, we probably would still be on death row, or worse.
After years of hard work, my attorneys got me a new trial on March 3, 2000. It was the second greatest day in my life. My lawyers proved that the prosecution had withheld evidence showing I was innocent. They also proved that the jailhouse snitch was a pathological liar, and got sworn statements from the other two witnesses recanting their testimony. They even got a statement from the prosecutor saying that the case should never have been brought in the first place because the evidence was too weak.
Ten long months later, in December, the state dismissed the case against me and Albert. The Attorney General said that there was “a total lack of credible evidence” linking us to the crime. On December 28, 2000 - the best day in my life - I was released from Louisiana’s death row, where I had spent close to 14 years for two murders I did not commit. I was the 92nd innocent person released from death row since 1973. Albert was released a few days later, and became the 93rd innocent person released from death row.
Half of my adult life had been taken from me. I had been falsely branded as a murderer in connection with horrible crimes. Meanwhile, the suffering family of the victims was misled into believing that the crime was solved, when in fact the real murderer or murderers had not been brought to justice.
In compensation, the state gave me a $10 check and a coat that was five sizes too big. Not even the price of a bus ticket back to Virginia. My lawyers had to buy that for me. At first, when I got back to my family in Virginia, I was afraid to go out. I thought people would guess from my complexion that I had just come out of prison. I couldn’t stop guzzling down my food and pacing the floor. Men in uniforms freaked me out.
Nowadays, I am just trying to put my life back together. I am getting to know my family again, including my brothers who are now young men. I have a job as a roofer, and I am getting married in October.
During my 14 wasted years on death row, I always hoped that my nightmare would count for something. That’s why I’m here today. Mistakes like my nightmare are real. I never figured that this could happen to an innocent person before it happened to me, and I am sure that many people listening today feel the same way. I ask you to listen to my story and to the many others like mine, and do what you can to fix the process.
, “an illiterate man with mild retardation” spent 13-years on death row, convicted for the same two counts of murder that Michael Graham was sent to death row, a crime he did not commit.
A tip from his ex-wife Janet, led authorities to charge Albert Burrell with killing the elderly Union Parish couple, Delton and Callie Frost.
Albert Burrell denied the charges, just as he has ever since that night in 1986. He claimed his ex-wife made up a story about him so she could get custody of five-year old son, Charles.
"She always lied. I just know she was wrong for what she did," Albert Burrell said recently. "She was scared they'd take her kids away from her."
Within a year, Albert Burrell was convicted and sentenced to die at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Charles did not see his dad for 13 years, only speaking to him once on the phone during that time.
Later, it was found the blood at the scene did not match Burrell's DNA, in addition to the trial testimony being false and the prosecutors had withheld key evidence (both men's original trial lawyers had been disbarred).
After an 8-month investigation, the state Attorney General's Office dismissed charges and District Judge Cynthia Woodard said there wasn't enough physical evidence tying Albert Burrell, 45, to the 1987 slayings of William and Callie Frost. DNA tests of blood found at the Frosts' home proved it did not match the blood of Burrell or Graham.
"I can hardly believe it," Burrell said as he left the Louisiana State Penitentiary.
On March 8, 1985, Kirk Bloodsworth
, a former Marine discus champion, was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder of 9-year-old Dawn Venice Hamilton, in Baltimore County, Md and ended up spending eight years, 11 months and nine days in the Maryland Penitentiary. He also became the first person sentenced to death row to be exonerated by DNA evidence.
His photo was chosen out of a group of suspects by two boys, aged 8 and 10, who witnessed the victim with a man shortly before her death. Later, in a criminal lineup, the same boys chose a police officer standing two people down from Bloodsworth as the suspect. A criminal profile, completed after Bloodsworth’s arrest, was used against him in his trial and eventually aided in his conviction.
The Maryland Court of Appeals overturned Bloodsworth's conviction in 1986 after finding that the prosecution had illegally withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from the defense. However, Bloodsworth was retried, again convicted, and sentenced to two life terms. That conviction and sentence was affirmed on appeal in 1988.
In the early 1990s, after learning about the first conviction using DNA evidence, Bloodsworth said he figured DNA evidence could also be used to free the wrongly convicted. When he wrote a letter to the prosecutor seeking the DNA evidence from the case, she informed Bloodsworth the evidence was “inadvertently destroyed.”
A clerk of the court eventually found the evidence in a brown paper bag in the closet of the judge’s chambers, and his lawyer paid $15,000 out of pocket expenses to begin the effort to have the DNA compared,.
In 1992, the biological material preserved from the crime was tested with a then-emerging DNA technology known as PCR (polymerase chain reaction). The tests absolutely established Bloodsworth's innocence.
In 1993 Bloodsworth was released from prison, and he began lobbying for DNA testing of innocence claims across the country, but even though he had been exonerated, he continued to face hostility from those around him. He received harassing phone calls from people ten years after his release, and all the money ($300,000) granted to him by the state of Maryland was instantly used to repay lawyer and court fees.
In 2003, the DNA evidence from the case was matched to a man named Kimberly Shay Ruffner, who had been arrested a month after Bloodsworth in 1984 for different sexual assault crimes. Bloodsworth, the prison librarian, brought Ruffner his library books every week. And the two men regularly worked out together in the prison weight yard. Ruffner had been living for nearly 10 years in the Maryland Penitentiary, just one floor below him.
Bloodsworth does not believe in the death penalty — even for Kimberly Shay Ruffner, the man eventually found guilty of the crime for which Bloodsworth originally was convicted, sentenced to die and wasted eight years of his life in prison. But in his work for the Education Fund, he puts his personal feelings aside and stresses the need for reforms so “there’s never another Kirk Bloodsworth.”
In 2004, Congress passed the Innocence Protection Act, which included the Kirk Bloodsworth Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program. The program gave $25 million to states to help pay for post-conviction DNA testing.
Laurence Adams spent 30 years in prison--one of those years on death row--for a crime he did not commit. Adams escaped execution because Massachusetts had abolished capital punishment soon after he was sentenced.
In March 1974, Laurence Adams was convicted and sentenced to death as one of allegedly three men who had beaten, robbed, and killed a subway porter in Boston in 1972.
In March 1973, Harry Ambers confessed to the crime and implicated Adams along with his own brother, Warren Ambers as his accomplices. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts eliminated the death penalty one year after Adams’ conviction and his sentence was changed to life imprisonment.
Adams was further implicated in the murder by the testimony of Prosecution witnesses, Wyatt Moore and his sister Lynne (Suzie) Moore, who testified that Adams had admitted to committing the crime with the Ambers brothers. Exculpatory evidence in the files of the Boston Police Department was not revealed until decades later. This included the fact that Suzie recanted her trial testimony, admitting that she had testified to help get her brother out of jail. Wyatt was being held on serious felony charges, (and he was released the day after Adams’ trial). In fact, Wyatt Moore was in prison on the same date Adams allegedly confessed his participation in the crime to the Moores. Police further withheld a sworn statement from a witness who said that Harry Ambers had confessed that he and his brother Warren alone had committed the murder.
In May, 2004, the Superior Court Justice allowed a Motion for Postconviction Relief and ordered a new trial because records, witness statements, and police reports that had not been disclosed were considered newly discovered evidence. However, in June the district attorney announced that, “the state was dropping the case because witnesses are dead and physical evidence is lacking,” (Boston Herald, June 8, 2004, at 26). Adams was released after 30 years of incarceration.
Lawyer Johnson Massachusetts Conviction: 1971, Charges Dismissed: 1982
Lawyer Johnson was sentenced to death by an all white jury for the murder of James Christian, a white victim. In 1982, the charges were dropped when a previously silent eyewitness, Dawnielle Montiero, who was 10 years old when the murder was committed, says the real killer, Kenneth Myers, was the man who testified against Johnson in two previous trials, the state's chief witness as the actual killer.
Johnson has said all along that he was not at the scene, but in two trials could not prove it so he spent ten years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.
In 1983, a bill was filed to obtain compensation for Johnson's wrongful conviction. (Commonwealth v. Johnson, 429 N.E.2d 726 (1982)).
“In an interview yesterday in his mother's house, where he has lived since he was released in February on bail, Johnson said that "anger destroys," but still he is bitter about the legal system that twice convicted him, once to death, and once to life in prison. He accused prosecutors of manipulating both the jury and the testimony because they cared only about getting a conviction, not about the truth.
"It was a legal lynching," he said. The prosecution, he said, "fabricated and conspired" with Meyers. Both juries were all white; the murder victim was white, too, and Johnson, who is black, said the racial fears of the jurors were played on by the prosecution.
"I totally believed in the system of justice," he said. "My faith in the system is gone."
Louis Greco died in prison following a 1965 Chelsea murder conviction and was posthumously exonerated.
Louis Greco joined the Army before World War II, became a professional prizefighter, and was sent off to combat in the South Pacific. He won two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and came back disabled for life with a shattered ankle and no future in the ring.
With a sixth grade education, he did what a lot of broken-down fighters did in that era, he sold his muscle as an enforcer and worked as a repo man for the mob.
In 1965, Louis Greco and his co-defendants were convicted in the murder of a small-time hoodlum named Teddy Deegan in a Chelsea alley. The prosecution charged Louis Greco with being the shooter and the three others as accessories to conspiracy. Greco was sentenced to death, as were Limone and Tameleo.
Greco submitted himself to eight different lie detector tests administered by outside experts and passed all eight of them. He wasn't even in Massachusetts at the time of the shooting; he was in Florida. Judge Gertner would declare that the FBI had deliberately withheld exculpatory evidence at the 1968 trial: namely, that its star witness, a contract killer for the Mob, was telling considerably less than the whole truth. The Justice Department task force's discovered compelling new evidence that Greco and his co-defendants were actually innocent of the murder of Edward Deegan.
Peter Limone Massachusetts Conviction: 1968, Charges Dismissed: 2001
Thirty -three years after being convicted and sentenced to death for a 1965 murder, Peter Limone's conviction was overturned (Commonwealth v. Limone, 2001 Mass. Super. LEXIS 7 (2001)) and the case against him officially dropped.
The move came as a result of a Justice Department task force's discovery of compelling new evidence that Limone and his co-defendants Joseph Salvati, Henry Tamelo, and Louis Greco were actually innocent of the murder of Edward Deegan.
In 1968, all four were convicted and Limone was sentenced to die in Massachusetts' electric chair, but was spared in 1974 when Massachusetts abolished the death penalty and his sentence was commuted to life in prison. Salvati, who was released from prison in 1997 when the governor commuted his sentence, received word from prosecutors that they were dropping the case against him as well. Tamelo and Greco both died in prison.
At trial, the main witness against the four men was Joseph Barboza, a hit man cooperating with prosecutors, who later admitted that he had fabricated much of his testimony. The recently revealed FBI documents show that informants had told the FBI before the murder that Deegan would soon be killed and by whom, and a memorandum after the crime listed the men involved. Neither list included Limone, Salvati, Tamelo or Greco. (New York Times, 2/2/01 and Boston Herald, 1/21/01)
Henry "The Referee" Temeleo was one of the founding members of the Boston criminal activities along with Phil Buccola and Joe Lombardo. Henry Tamaelo was also a member of the Bonanno Family and was the underboss of Family boss Raymond Patriarca in the 1950's till the end of the 1960's. In 1967 he and Patriarca were arrested for the murder of bookmaker Willie Marfeo. Before the trial's conclusion, Tameleo, along with Peter Limone, Louis Greco and Jospeh Salvati were indicted for the murder of Edward "Teddy" Deegan on March 12, 1965. In 1968, all four men were found guily of the Deegan murder in the Superior Court of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, and sentenced to death by the state. This penalty was later reduced to life in prison, where Tameleo died in 1985.
By 2000, all charges were dismissed against Tameleo and the other accused men, amid a flurry of accusations of a government frame-up and cover-up extending over thirty years. In 2007, a federal judge in Boston awarded damages of $101.7 million to the four men who were wrongly convicted for Deegan's murder in 1965 after Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents H. Paul Rico, Dennis Condon, John Morris, and John Connolly took affirmative steps to withhold evidence of their innocence in order to protect FBI informants Vincent Flemmi and Joseph Barboza. $13 million went to the estate of Enrico Tameleo, specifically his son, Saverio, as administrator of the Tameleo estate, and Tameleo's wife Jeanette.
In 2001, Jeremy Sheets was released after prosecutors decided not to retry his case. Sheets was sentenced to death in 1997 for the 1992 kidnapping and murder of a young woman in Omaha. The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned Sheets' conviction because there was no evidence against him other than a taped confession by another man, Adam Barnett, who said he committed the crime with Sheets. Barnett hung himself before Sheets’ trial, so Sheets was unable to confront his accuser and thus the tape could not be used against him.
|Ron Keine, Assistant Director for |
Witness to Innocence
Anyway, New Mexico knows firsthand that the innocent can go to death row. In 1974, four men--Thomas V. Gladish, Richard Greer, Ronald Keine and Clarence Smith--were wrongfully sentenced to death in New Mexico.
The four were convicted of kidnapping, raping and killing William Velten. They could have been executed if not for an investigation by the Detroit News, which interviewed a key eyewitness in the case who said she was coached to identify the four. Seventeen months later, the men were freed when another man confessed to the murder.
Inspired by the 1969 movie, "Easy Rider", Ron Keine a college student in Detroit at the time, decided to tour the country on a motorcycle with his friends. They joined an infamous California motorcycle gang Keine described as "a drinking club with a motorcycle problem."
“In 1974, Keine, Doc and three friends had borrowed a van for a trip home when they were stopped and harassed by police in Oklahoma. They were arrested and charged with armed robbery of a gas station, which had burned down two years prior. But before Keine and his friends were set free, they were told they had to be extradited to New Mexico and were being charged with the Albuquerque murder of college student William Velten.
Once in New Mexico, Keine's court-appointed public defender advised Keine and his cohorts to plead guilty so they would only get life in prison. Keine pleaded not guilty and was taken immediately from the arraignment to death row, where he sat for two months awaiting trial.
At the trial, the prosecutor presented the testimony of a motel maid who claimed to have seen the men carry out the murder. Police, however, had found no evidence in the van the men were riding in or on their pocket knives, according to Keine. Keine asked his public defender several times to object to the evidence, but to no avail. He was convicted and sent to death row.
Keine said at that moment his "whole value system slammed down on you. Everything you believed about the law, the honesty, the ethics of it, out the window."
Keine stayed on death row awaiting his execution for two years, until a former police officer, Kerry Lee, confessed the murder to the pastor of a church. Keine was notified of his retrial nine days before his scheduled execution and was freed in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.