Top 10 Falsely Convicted People

Script written by Craig Butler Everyone's been accused of something they didn't do – but not everyone spends time in prison for it. Join WatchMojo.com as we count down our picks for the top 10 falsely convicted people. For this list, we're looking at people who were actually convicted of a crime they did not commit, not people who were unjustly accused, like Joan of Arc. Special thanks to our user Calvin Zhang for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest
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Everyone’s been accused of something they didn’t do – but not everyone spends time in prison for it. Welcome to WatchMojo.com and today we’re counting down our picks for the top 10 falsely convicted people.

For this list, we’re looking at people who were actually convicted of a crime they did not commit, not people who were unjustly accused, like Joan of Arc.

#10: Randall Dale Adams
The first person on our list became the subject of the influential documentary “The Thin Blue Line.” Randall Dale Adams was convicted of the 1976 murder of a Dallas police officer. But, in actual fact, it was an acquaintance named David Harris that shot the policeman when he pulled Harris over in a stolen car. Harris, however, insisted Adams had shot the officer, though Adams was not in the car at the time. The prosecutor in the case withheld evidence, as detailed in the documentary, which also included Harris’ later confession. Released in 1989, Adams received no restitution for his sentence due to a technicality.

#9: Arthur Allan Thomas
It’s tragic to be convicted falsely of a crime you didn’t commit; it’s even worse when it happens twice. New Zealand farmer Arthur Allan Thomas spent time in prison for the 1970 murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe. After his conviction was quashed, he was tried and sentenced again. His conviction was largely based on the presence of a rifle shell found in the victims’ garden four months after the murder. That shell was planted there by police officers to frame Thomas. In 1979, Thomas was finally pardoned and freed. However, the police officers responsible for his arrest were not punished.

#8: Steven Avery
No one would’ve described Steven Avery as an upstanding citizen: the Wisconsin native had already been jailed for burglary and animal cruelty when he was arrested in 1985 for the brutal sexual assault of Penny Beerntsen. Avery ultimately served 18 years for that crime, until DNA evidence secured his release in 2003. This case led the Wisconsin state legislature to pass a bill to help prevent wrongful convictions, and led Avery to sue those he found responsible for $36 million. Unfortunately, before that lawsuit was settled, Avery was arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach, a crime that formed the basis of the controversial 2015 Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer.” Again, Avery remains steadfast that he is innocent.

#7: Dewey Bozella
Bozella was arrested in 1977 for the murder of a 92-year-old woman but was released due to a lack of evidence. Then in 1983, the former boxer was re-arrested and charged with the murder, based on information provided by two convicts. Unfortunately, the convicts fabricated the information to secure their own release from prison. Bozella served 26 years, steadfastly proclaiming his innocence. As a matter of fact, though he was a model prisoner, he was denied parole because he wouldn’t confess to committing the murder. Finally, additional evidence was uncovered which demonstrated he was not guilty and he was freed.

#6: The West Memphis Three
The vicious 1993 killing of three 8-year-old boys in Arkansas drew national attention. Three teen-aged boys were arrested for the crime, and it was implied they had committed the heinous acts as part of a Satanic ritual. Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr. and Jason Baldwin were subsequently tried and convicted. But the case was filled with problems. The crime scene was not properly secured, the coroner’s work was substandard, a major witness recanted her testimony, and there was evidence of inappropriate jury communications. In 2011, after a series of documentaries on the case, the three convicted men were released.

#5: Darryl Hunt
In 1984, Darryl Hunt, a 19-year-old African-American, was found guilty in the rape and murder of Deborah Sykes, a white woman, in North Carolina. This verdict came from an all-white jury, based on witness testimony. There was no physical evidence linking Hunt to the scene. In 1994, DNA evidence cleared Hunt of the rape charges, but he remained in prison almost ten more years. Finally, the man who really did rape and kill Deborah Sykes confessed to the crime. Hunt has since become a powerful spokesperson for the need for more careful and accurate justice systems, before tragically taking his own life in 2016.

#4: Rubin Carter
A boxer with the nickname “Hurricane,” of Bob Dylan music fame, Rubin Carter spent 20 years in jail for a 1966 triple homicide at a bar in New Jersey. Circumstantial evidence seemed to indicate Carter and a friend were the culprits, but it was a questionable case. There were inconsistencies concerning the physical evidence and witnesses who placed Carter elsewhere at the time of the murder. Two key witnesses against Carter later recanted their testimony. Finally, in 1985, a judge freed Carter, noting racism and concealment in the prosecution’s handling of the case.

#3: Alfred Dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus, a French officer of Jewish background, was accused of being a spy and passing on valuable military information to the Germans in 1894. Found guilty in a secret military trial, he was sentenced to life on the infamous Devil’s Island in French Guiana. In 1896, the real spy was identified, but the military court refused to convict him. What followed was an outcry over the obviously anti-Semitic treatment afforded to Dreyfus. A second trial again resulted in a verdict of guilty, despite the merits of the evidence. Dreyfus was pardoned and eventually exonerated, but the case created a national scandal for France.

#2: Gerry Conlon
The conviction of the Guildford Four brought renewed attention to the British-Irish conflict in 1974. Gerry Conlon was one of three Irishmen who were convicted alongside an Englishwoman of bombing a pub in Guildford, England. In addition, Conlon’s father and other relatives were also falsely convicted of being part of the plot. Conlon maintained he had been tortured into making a confession. This was validated later, when it was also learned that the police had held back important evidence. The falsely convicted Conlon was released after 14 years. His story was dramatized in Daniel Day-Lewis film “In the Name of the Father.”

Before we reveal our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
Dr. Samuel Holmes Sheppard
James Bain
Barry Gibbs
Timothy Cole
The Mickelberg Brothers

#1: Victims of the Salem Witch Trials
Famously dramatized in the play “The Crucible,” the Salem Witch Trials were a horrendous miscarriage of justice. In 1692 and 1693, a group of young girls began accusing neighbors and townspeople of being witches. This created a mass hysteria that engulfed the town. Before cooler heads prevailed, 20 people, including 14 women, were executed. Scores more were accused and their lives irreparably damaged. It’s assumed that many took advantage of the situation to intentionally profit from the misfortune of their fellow citizens. Although some of those convicted and/or killed were later pardoned, the stigma remained for many families.

Do you agree with our list? What other people who served time for crimes they didn’t commit deserve to be on the list? For more enthralling top 10s published daily, be sure to subscribe to WatchMojo.com.
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