Famous Convictions that were Overturned

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Though we like to believe that our law enforcement professionals are doing a good job, too often we have stories of terrible miscarriages of justice. Sometimes a person has been framed by the Police, or have been convicted on circumstantial evidence, or in some cases due to a false and malicious accusation. Here is a list of some of the most notorious and famous examples of convictions for serious crimes that were eventually overturned.

1. Guildford Four

The Guildford Four is a collective name for a group of people convicted of terrorism offences in the UK in the mid 1970s. They were accused of planting bombs throughout the city of Guildford and were arrested on suspicion of being members of the IRA. In truth, though all the men were Irish, there was never any evidence that the men had ever been linked at any time with terrorist activities, nor did they fit the profile of an activist. Their convictions were quashed in the early 1990s.

2. Anthony Hanemaayer

Sometimes, people plead guilty to things in order to avoid a lengthy sentence ‘ if guilty, it is usually a shrewd move that will save the public cost of a lengthy case. Sometimes, innocent people feel they have no hope and will plead guilty out of terror of avoiding lengthy sentences, because of pressure or stress. Hanemaayer was convicted of raping a 15 year old girl. He served nearly two years. Fifteen years later, a serial rapist and killer known as The Scarborough Rapist confessed to the crime. Hanemaayer appealed to the court who then overturned the conviction and awarded him compensation.

3. Nora Wall

It is not often that women are convicted of rape, some say it is notoriously hard to prove yet society is always surprised when it does happen. Women also, it seems, are falsely accused of rape. Two separate women ‘ one of whom had a history of false accusations and the other with a history of mental illness – accused this former nun of rape. Wall served four days of a life sentence before her release. There was also a male co-defendant and the defence later demonstrated he could not possibly have been with Wall at the time.

4. Angela Cannings

One of the greatest taboo crimes today is when a mother murders her child. One of the greatest tragedies is cot death. Evidence at the time suggested that where one cot death is a tragedy, a second is statistically improbable. Cannings tragically lost two babies to cot death and on the basis of this was tried and convicted of two counts of murder. Later evidence suggested that the likelihood of a second cot death was more likely and tended to run in families. Cannings was acquitted in 2003.

5. Atle Hage

Some divorces turn incredibly nasty with recriminations and false accusations. Few though (except for some false accusations of domestic violence) involve anything serious or illegal. When his marriage broke down, Atle Hage found himself falsely accused by his estranged wife of sexually assaulting their two daughters. He spent time in prison and tragically committed suicide while there. The ex-wife went on to make similar allegations against her second husband and Hage’s children later campaigned for his exoneration, claiming no abuse had ever taken place. His name was cleared posthumously in 1998.

6. Dewey Bozella

Dewey Bozella was an up and coming boxer in the 1970s. In 1983 he was arrested on suspicion of killing a 92 year old woman in a botched burglary in New York. Bozella continued to maintain his innocence through the trial, during nearly 20 years in prison and even at each successive parole hearing. In exasperation, he eventually contacted The Innocence Project who discovered a number of discrepancies with his case, including suppressed evidence. He was released in 2009 and his conviction was overturned.

7. Ronald Cotton

This tragic story of a man falsely accused of rape eventually became a tale of great friendship: how so? His accuser twice identified him as the man who raped her, even after another man boasted that he had committed the crime and was to get away with it. Later evidence showed that Cotton was indeed innocent and Thompson out of guilt reached out to him in a gesture of remorse. She is now a firm critic of so-called ‘eye witness testimony’ and the two regularly tour together campaigning for reform of too much reliance on eyewitness reports.

8. Maatz Gang

Israel has always lived in a state of fear, fear of usurpers on the inside and enemies from the outside. The group of seven people were accused and convicted of plotting a series of arson terror attacks and to kill a number of police officers and other officials. They signed confessions and were convicted in 1978. It later came to light, when a police officer confessed, that the confessions had taken place under duress and that the accused had been beaten. Their convictions were quashed in 1998.

9. Timothy Evans

Grief can lead people to do terrible things, even confessing to a murder owing to the personal guilt they may be feeling. This isn’t helped when an actual murderer has convinced you to confess to the crime. Timothy Evans was accused of murdering his wife and new-born daughter at 10 Rillington Place during an apparent botched abortion. Evans first confessed and then accused his landlord of the crime. The actual killer ‘ John Christie who is one of the UK’s most notorious serial killers ‘ framed Evans and later confessed. Evans’ conviction was overturned in 1966 with a full royal pardon.

10. El crimen de Cuenca

What do you do when you are imprisoned for murder, there is no body and the ‘murdered’ person eventually turns up alive and well? This is what happened to two peasants in Spain’s most famous miscarriage of justice. Two men were imprisoned for the murder of another man. No corpse was ever found, and many prosecutions have successfully passed because of this. Many years later the person apparently murdered (Jose Maria Grimaldos) turned up alive and well and living in the next town.


Many people look at the above examples and say that this is why the western world should abolish Capital Punishment. All countries in the European Union have done so and in the last few years a few more US states have also abolished the death penalty. When a miscarriage of justice occurs, it is especially tragic if that innocent person loses their life for such a mistake.

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