Most of the time, the right person is caught and convicted of crimes. However, people are not perfect and sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time means the wrong person is arrested and convicted ‘ sometimes executed. Sometimes something more sinister is going on as police frame a suspect. Sadly, if somebody is executed for a crime there is nothing that can be done for them. Here is a list of some of the most notorious miscarriages of justice and in some cases, people wrongfully executed.
1. Timothy Evans
It is tragic when somebody is wrongfully executed, but even more tragic when the real killer convinces the innocent person to confess to the crime. Evans confessed to the murder of his wife and baby daughter in 1950 having been manipulated by the infamous serial killer John Christie who was not found out for many years. Evans was pardoned by the Court of Appeal in 1966, one year after the United Kingdom finally abolished capital punishment. Christie eventually confessed to the murder of at least eight women.
2. Teng Xingshan
One of China’s most notorious cases surrounds the disappearance of a woman named Shi Xiaorong in 1989. Later, an old man found a body that had been dismembered and police matched it to the photo of the missing woman, claiming that the woman had also been raped. Nobody could explain then when the missing woman turned up five years later stating that she had been abducted to another province and recently escaped. The body was not properly identified at the time and Teng was finally pardoned in 2005.
3. Derek Bentley
In one of the most controversial cases in British history, Derek Bentley, a young man with learning difficulties got involved with Christopher Craig, a man known to the police. During an attempted burglary, the two lads were spotted by a police officer. Craig had a gun and shot the officer. During the altercation, Bentley said ‘let him have it.’ His defence always maintained that he had meant ‘let him have the gun’. Craig was too young to be executed but Bentley ‘ who did not pull the trigger ‘ was hanged. He was posthumously pardoned in 1998.
4. Alan Turing
The technological genius largely credited with inventing the computer and driving us towards the modern digital world, was prosecuted in 1952 for homosexual acts. His option was to go to jail or take chemical castration. He opted for the latter. He died in 1954 of a cyanide overdose. The verdict was suicide but his family believed it was accidental. The British Government made an official public apology in 2009 and he was pardoned for his ‘crime’ in 2013. It was a result of public pressure to exonerate him.
5. Leo Frank
A young girl was murdered by strangulation in 1915 and Leo Frank ‘ a Jew ‘ was hanged by a lynch mob. Frank was no angel and was the last person to have seen her alive; he had been seen flirting with her (she was 31 and he was 31). Frank accused a black man of killing the girl, appealing to the racism of the mob. Nobody really knows whether Frank or the other man was responsible, such is the nature of lynchings, but in 1986 he was pardoned of the crime to ‘heal old wounds’.
6. Patrick Conlon
Terrorism is and always has been a touchy subject and a number of convictions for bombings in the UK and Northern Ireland in the 1970s were eventually quashed. The Guildford Four, The Birmingham Six and The Maguire Seven are all familiar terms of injustice to British people. Patrick Conlon never got the chance to clear his name in life ‘ and he had not even been in the country at the time of the bombings for which he was accused. He died in prison in 1980.
7. Joan of Arc
Treated appallingly in what we would today class as a ‘kangaroo court’, she was executed for heresy in 1431 following a brief truce between England and their Burgundian allies and the French army for which she fought. Following her execution, the court case would prove to be illegal under common law at the time. Pope Callixtus III authorised a retrial over twenty years after her death. She was eventually acquitted in 1456 and in the 16th century she was beatified. Pope Bendict XV canonised her in 1920.
8. Salem Witch Trials
There is a lot of misinformation about the Salem Witch Trials. Not all accused were women for one. Not all accused were found guilty for two. Not all found guilty were executed for three. Nevertheless, the joke of a trial fuelled by irrational hysteria of witchcraft in Puritan New England has become the quintessential example of a mockery of a trial ‘ something we hope never happens again. It took over 300 years for the state of Massachusetts to exonerate everyone who had initially been found guilty.
9. Steven Truscott
Found guilty of murdering his family in 1959 when he was just 14 years old, Truscott was sentenced to death by hanging. That was postponed for an appeal which he won and commuted his sentence to life in prison. He continued to maintain his innocence and won a retrial in 2001. In 2007 following six years of investigation, Ontario’s highest authority declared his trial a miscarriage of justice and freed him. Later, he was awarded some $6.5m (CAD).
The Greek philosopher waited longer than anyone else on this list to gain his exoneration: something in the region of 2000 years ‘ though there is still yet to be an official Greek government response to an international informal retrial. An international panel of modern judges came to the conclusion that the evidence was circumstantial and based on the facts had the trial taken place today, Socrates would have been acquitted.
In just one of the cases above, a wrongfully convicted person was not executed. However, he did lose all of his youth and the best years of his life ‘ missing out on going to university and starting a family and other things that most of us take for granted as options to us. The others were not so lucky having died in prison before release or later exonerated of crimes they were never guilty of in the first place.