In the United States, there are currently around 1.2 million people in prison, and those who have been convicted of a crime can face a variety of penalties for their actions. While many may be serving time for drug convictions or other nonviolent crimes, others have been found guilty of very serious crimes that can impact society. For instance, in 2013, a woman named Stephanie George was given a life sentence for her involvement in her boyfriend’s drug ring. Even though she did not handle the drugs and only acted as a lookout for one trip, she still received the same penalty as if she had been actively selling narcotics to others.
Most of the individuals who have committed these acts are aware of the severity of their crimes and understand that they must be held accountable. However, some people do not realize what type of sentence they may receive due to a lack of information or an error on the part of law enforcement officials. Others simply plead guilty to avoid going through a trial or receiving a harsher punishment if found guilty by a jury. Whatever the reason, there have been countless cases in which a person has been convicted of a crime, only to find out later that someone else had committed it.
Here are 10 examples of mistaken identities that led to completely innocent people receiving life sentences, long prison terms, or the death penalty for crimes they did not commit. It is important to understand these cases as a reminder of how the justice system works and why it is essential for those who are accused to fight back against an unfair conviction.
- Michael Morton
The case of Michael Morton gained national attention, largely because he spent nearly 25 years in prison for murdering his wife before DNA evidence exonerated him. In fact, the primary evidence presented in his trial was a statement from his young son who claimed to have witnessed the crime. However, according to reports from those who knew him and were close to his family at the time of his arrest, there is little chance that he could be guilty given his character and behavior.
After being convicted of bludgeoning his wife to death, Morton was sentenced to life in prison. Unfortunately for him, several other people were able to provide evidence that he could not have murdered his wife due to the circumstances surrounding her murder and its location. The most convincing of these statements came from an unidentified man who claimed he had committed the crime while trespassing on the family’s property and who directed police to the precise location of the murder weapon.
While it took nearly 25 years for this information to come out, Morton was finally able to prove his innocence after utilizing DNA evidence from the scene. Unfortunately, due to how long he spent in prison, he lost all opportunities to be with his son when he grew up since that time was taken away from him.
- Jeffrey Deskovic
Unfortunately, there are plenty of cases in which an innocent person is convicted of a crime because they had no alibi or were unable to offer any convincing evidence of their innocence. The best example of this is the case of Jeffrey Deskovic who spent 16 years behind bars for the rape and murder of a teenage girl in New York. While his conviction was eventually overturned with the help of DNA evidence, he still lost 16 years of his life to prison before being released under supervision.
The first piece of evidence that led police to Deskovic came from a man who claimed to know about the crime. After being threatened with a long prison sentence, the man eventually mentioned Deskovic’s name and said that he had been involved. While this statement should have raised a red flag for investigators due to its nature, they still arrested Deskovic who then gave a false confession following hours of intense questioning without an attorney present.
To make matters worse, blood from Deskovic’s mother was also found on the victim’s body which led some prosecutors to believe that she might have been an accomplice in this crime. Even though his mother completely denied these allegations and there is no evidence pointing towards her involvement in the murder itself, it did not prevent police from charging her during their initial investigation.
- Roy Criner
While DNA evidence has become a popular way to exonerate innocent people who have been wrongfully convicted, it has not always served this purpose. One of the most popular examples of this is the case of Roy Criner who was accused and convicted of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in Texas back in 1990. After spending nearly 10 years in prison before being released on bail, DNA evidence eventually proved that he did not commit the crime.
Even though there was no physical evidence linking him to the murder, his conviction was upheld due to how convincing his accuser seemed when she made her statement. This woman claimed that Criner had raped her with a foreign object before killing another person nearby. What’s more, immediately after returning home from the attack she called 911 and was able to provide a lengthy statement in regard to her ordeal.
Unfortunately for Criner, the only thing that could save him was convincing enough for the jury was his accuser’s questionable behavior when she took the stand in court. After someone questioned her story about how long it had taken her to call 911 after being attacked, she suddenly began acting nervous and started looking around the courtroom instead of at those questioning her. This eventually led jurors to believe that something was not right about this woman’s story which is why they agreed with Criner’s defense attorney when he said that his client had not committed this crime.
- George Allen, Jr.
Every year there are hundreds of people who are wrongfully convicted of crimes due to popular opinion or popular evidence. One example of this happened after a jury convicted George Allen, Jr. because they thought it was strange that he had been seen at the crime scene just moments before the shooting took place even though there was no evidence linking him to the crime whatsoever.
Despite popular opinion and evidence pointing towards his guilt, forensic evidence eventually proved that Allen could not have committed the crime since he had an unshakable alibi which could not be overruled by anyone. That being said, all of his good behavior throughout his time in prison such as staying out of trouble or maintaining high marks during school were also disregarded when pronouncing his sentence since popular belief led everyone involved to believe that he must be guilty.
- Joe Bryan
After Joe Bryan had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife, he did everything that he possibly could to prove his innocence. Unfortunately, every piece of evidence that made it seem like he might have committed the crime was strong enough to convince everyone involved that he must be guilty.
This man’s case is a perfect example of how hard it can be to get someone out once they have been wrongfully convicted simply because there was not enough physical evidence pointing towards his guilt when this trial took place even though many people thought otherwise due to popular opinion at the time. When investigators searched through a swamp a few days after Bryan was arrested in hopes of finding a gun used in the crime, they never came across any human remains or other incriminating evidence that could have helped his case even though they made their search an extended one.
- Richard Miles
Although Richard Miles admitted to killing his wife, he claimed that he was not guilty because of insanity because he had been drinking heavily at the time of the crime. Even though this may make it seem like people would believe him since alcohol often makes people act irrationally, this man’s claim was never given any merit after he started making it.
While Richard Miles pleaded with everyone who would listen in order to get them to understand why he might have killed his wife while under the influence, others thought differently which led to all of his claims being ignored—even if these claims might have been important enough to get him out of prison.
- Craig Houser
Although Craig Houser was present at the crime scene, he said that it had not been his idea and that he had simply tagged along with those who already intended on committing a break-in and robbery even though he did not partake in either of these activities. However, this claim never seemed believable to the jury because they thought it was strange for someone to be seen by police officers shortly after apparently attempting to commit a crime and then running away from them when questioned.
Even though no evidence was ever found linking him directly to this crime or proving that he committed the crime, most people that he must be guilty especially since he was seen fleeing from the building shortly after this incident occurred.
- Paul House
This case is yet another example of how a person can be convicted and sentenced to death or life imprisonment without any kind of evidence linking them directly to the crime. Paul House claimed that he had been wrongfully convicted especially after people found out that there was no physical evidence tying him to the crime scene whatsoever, which means that he cannot have committed it at all.
Even though common sense might lead most people to believe that such a situation must mean that someone who has nothing to do with a crime should not be blamed for said crime, many other people thought differently at the time—which ultimately led to House being sent away for two consecutive life sentences.
- Dale Devon Scheanette
Dale Devon Scheanette was able to convince everyone that he had never committed this crime since all of the physical evidence that existed pointed towards his innocence. For example, he did not have any gunshot residue on his hands even though it seemed like he would have if he were guilty.
Even though investigators found an eyewitness who claimed that she saw him commit the crime, they did not take her information seriously at first—which is what allowed him to get away with the fact that no other type of evidence linked him to this incident directly.
- Eddy O’Conner and Patrick Campbell
Although Eddy O’Conner and Patrick Campbell both confessed to taking part in a robbery gone wrong and to killing the people who were killed during this incident, investigators did not believe them at first since they did not think so many murders could take place and still only have two different guns used.
Even though the defense attorneys stated that they only needed to prove that both of these men were present at the crime scene to ensure a guilty verdict, they ended up needing more evidence to get them out of prison—which is when someone finally decided to investigate further.
To make matters worse, no other type of physical evidence could be found in this case which means that even if they are innocent, there is no way for anyone else to know the truth about their innocence.
Mistaken identities happen to many people from all walks of life, whether they share popular last names with criminals or not. Nearly everyone has looked at the wrong person before, which means that you never know when one of these mistakes might be made about you. Luckily, most people can escape prison sentences when this happens because investigators usually believe their claims of innocence—but there are still cases in which the wrong person is sent to death row or is sentenced without ever being found guilty of a crime.