7 innocent people who were executed
- 47-year-old Roy Michael Roberts in the US
- Roberts was convicted of robbing a restaurant and imprisoned. But the real criminal later confessed to his crimes and also stated that he’d worked alone, proving Roberts’ innocence. Just before he was released, a prison riot broke out and a guard was held down by one prisoner and stabbed to death by two others. Roberts was blamed as the man who held down the prison guard, even though there was no evidence connecting him to the crime. He even passed a lie detector test to prove his innocence! But no one listened and in 1999 he was executed.
- We-Chank-Wash-Ta-Don-Pee in the US (unknown age)
- In 1862 there was a particularly violent clash between the Native American Dakota tribe and the white Americans in present-day Minnesota. When the American soldiers were rounding up Dakota tribesmen thought to be responsible for killing an estimated 470 men and women, they also imprisoned a young man named Chaska - but it was a case of mistaken identity. He was accidentally filed under the name of another prisoner, a man named Chaskey-etay, who had brutally murdered a pregnant woman. Chaska had taken a young family captive, but only to act as insurance so he wouldn’t be killed by other white people - and the family actually testified on his behalf that he’d kept them safe from the violence of other members of his tribe. So he wrote to President Lincoln, who did give him a written pardon - but it never arrived. So on 26 December 1862, he was hanged. Many people are still petitioning for Chaska’s federal pardon today.
- 18-year-old Huugjilt in China
- Huugjilt was 18 when he discovered the body of a woman who’d been raped and murdered in a public toilet and reported it to the police. He was charged with having done it and executed 61 days later in 1996. Yet, nine years later, it was discovered that the real murderer was Zhao Zhihong - who was found guilty in 2015 of raping 12 other women and murdering 10 people. The officer who had been in charge of Huugjilt’s case was charged with torture and bribery by Chinese authorities, as he had forced a false confession from Huugjilt.
- 24-year-old Joe Arridy in the US
- In 1936, a 15-year-old girl was raped and murdered in Colorado. The real murderer, Frank Aguilar, led the police to a boy called Joe Arridy so he could avoid suspicion. Joe was entirely innocent, but he had severe mental and learning difficulties and was unable to properly explain and fight for his innocence. So he was arrested and convicted of the murder. His happy and playful nature won him many friends, with even the prison’s most notoriously cruel guard taking a liking to him and bringing him toys to play with while he awaited his execution. And later on, Frank Aguilar was actually caught and convicted of the murder. But authorities assumed that they had done it together and Joe didn’t understand enough to set them straight. So he was still executed in 1939, by gas chamber. More than 70 years later, he finally received a pardon.
- 28-year-old Ruben Cantu in the US
- This Texas teenager was sentenced to death when he was just 17 years old because his friend (who was also on trial) allowed Cantu to be falsely accused to avoid punishment himself. After years on death row, he was executed in 1994. It took twelve years for the lone eyewitness to take back his testimony, at which point Cantu’s friend admitted that he’d let him be wrongly convicted - he even said that Cantu wasn’t actually there the night that the murder happened! Cantu wasn’t completely innocent of wrongdoing - he regularly stole cars and was always dodging the police. But those aren’t death-worthy crimes.
- 20-year-old Derek Bentley in the UK
- On 2 November 1952, Bentley and his friend Christopher Craig attempted a burglary. But they were spotted breaking in and the police were called. When they arrived on the scene, one of the police officers asked Craig to "Hand over the gun, lad", at which point Bentley shouted, "Let him have it, Chris". It was argued by his lawyer that his instruction was meant to encourage Craig to give the officer his gun, but instead, Craig took it as an order to shoot at the officers - and one of them was killed. Despite the fact that Bentley had not used any weapons at all, his instruction to Craig was used to hold him responsible and both boys were charged with murder. There was a long campaign to get him a royal pardon, but he was still executed by hanging in 1953. But the campaign continued even after his death and he was finally granted a pardon in 1993.
- 26-year-old Thomas and Meeks Griffin in the US
- In 1913 a white man was murdered in South Carolina and (since he was found with the victim’s gun in his possession) local black man John Stevenson was arrested for it. He was threatened with the death penalty but was given the opportunity to instead get life in prison if he told them who else was involved. So he named brothers Thomas and Meeks Griffin. They were both completely innocent, but the local police weren’t interested and quickly pushed through a trial and had them sentenced them to death by electric chair. Stevenson later admitted the reason he blamed them is because they were wealthy, and he assumed they had the money to beat the charges. But it was too late - the brothers were executed in 1915. And it took until 2009 for them to get an official pardon.
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