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  • These are thirteen people executed for crimes they may not have or did not commit.

  • It's impossible to hear their tragic stories and not long for justice on their behalf.

  • 13.

  • Cameron Todd Willingham

  • Two days before Christmas in 1991, the Willingham family home in Texas burned down.

  • Stacey Willingham, the matriarch of the family, was out doing some last-minute Christmas shopping.

  • Cameron Willingham was at home with his three daughters - Amber Louise Kuykendall, aged

  • two, and the twins Karmon Diane Willingham and Kameron Marie Willingham, both aged one.

  • Cameron was able to escape the blaze with minor burns, but his daughters, tragically,

  • were not so lucky.

  • All three died in the fire.

  • If this wasn't horrific enough for Cameron and Stacey, Cameron was charged with capital

  • murder of his own three daughters, after Texas arson investigators claimed that the fire

  • was an intentional murder plot.

  • What followed was a sham of a trial, where things like Cameron owning Iron Maiden posters

  • and having a tattoo of a skull and snake were brought in to suggest he may have been a cold-blooded

  • killer.

  • Sadly, this was apparently enough.

  • Despite pleading innocence all the way up to 2004, his execution still went ahead.

  • Later, more reliable arson experts claimed that the science behind Cameron's conviction

  • was bunk.

  • In the words of Former Louisiana State University fire instructor Kendall Ryland, “[It] made

  • me sick to think this guy was executed based on this investigation

  • They executed this guy and they've just got no idea - at least not scientifically

  • - if he set the fire, or if the fire was even intentionally set.”

  • 12.

  • David Wayne Spence

  • We remain in Texas - one of the United States' most enthusiastic executors - for the death

  • of David Wayne Spence, who was executed in 1997.

  • The crime he was accused of was undeniably horrific - a triple sexual assault and murder

  • case from 1982, where three teenagers were found dead next to Lake Waco.

  • All evidence pointed to the deaths being a case of mistaken identity - three other people

  • were supposed to have been murdered in a supposed life insurance scam.

  • Investigators believed that career criminal David Wayne Spence had been hired to carry

  • out this hit.

  • Well, one overzealous narcotics cop believed he was responsible.

  • The lead detective on the case was quoted saying, “Nothing from the investigation

  • ever led us to any evidence that he was involved.”

  • The Waco police lieutenant also said, “My opinion is that David Spence was innocent.

  • Nothing from the investigation ever led us to any evidence that he was involved.”

  • But he was sentenced to death anyway, partially on the testimony of prison inmates who later

  • admitted that they'd been bribed to give their testimony.

  • Shortly before his execution, Spence said to the families of the 1982 murder victims,

  • “I want you to understand I speak the truth when I say I didn't kill your kids.

  • Honestly, I have not killed anyone.

  • I wish you could get the rage from your hearts and you could see the truth and get rid of

  • the hatred.”

  • 11.

  • Timothy Evans

  • Now over to England.

  • While the death penalty was abolished there in 1965, they got plenty of wrongful executions

  • under their belt before the cutoff.

  • One such execution was the death of Timothy Evans in 1950.

  • He tearfully confessed to the accidental killing of his wife during a botched abortion and

  • accepted the grim consequences.

  • Timothy wasn't in possession of his full mental faculties and was easily persuaded

  • during his three-day trial.

  • He was charged with double murder, for his wife and unborn child, before being hanged

  • at Pentonville Prison.

  • But, sickeningly, Timothy Evans wasn't a murderer at all.

  • He'd been taken advantage of by an intelligent and malicious serial killer who happened to

  • board with him, ex-policeman John Reginald Christie, who would later be convicted of

  • the murders of six people.

  • In light of new evidence, Timothy Evans was given a posthumous pardon nearly two decades

  • later.

  • In a sense, he was just as much a victim of the terrifying John Reginald Christie as any

  • of the others that died more directly by his hand.

  • 10.

  • Carlos DeLuna

  • Back to Texas.

  • In 1983, a 24-year-old gas station attendant named Wanda Lopez was murdered during a botched

  • robbery by what two witnesses reported as a “Hispanicassailant.

  • An APB was put out, and soon after, nearby jogger Carlos DeLuna was brought in.

  • And this is where things get horrifying.

  • Despite there being no substantial evidence against him, Carlos still matched the description.

  • He was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed in 1989.

  • But while this is tragic, it isn't the weird part.

  • All signs point to a completely different man with the same first name, Carlos Hernandez,

  • being the true killer.

  • In fact, Carlos Hernandez was an unstable man with a criminal history and even confessed

  • to the murder multiple times.

  • The eerie part is that the two Carloses looked exactly the same.

  • So much so that their own families couldn't tell the two apart from photos.

  • Sometimes real life is even stranger than fiction.

  • 9.

  • Derek Bentley

  • Back to England, for the bizarre case of Derek Bentley.

  • Derek, much like Timothy Evans, suffered from mental problems.

  • In IQ tests, he scored 66, compared to the average 98, suggesting he was mentally challenged

  • to some extent.

  • He and his younger partner in crime, Christopher Craig, broke into a candy factory with the

  • intent to commit robbery.

  • Derek was armed with a knuckle duster, and Craig with a revolver.

  • Police soon intercepted and apprehended the two criminals.

  • Derek had already been grabbed and restrained, and Craig was engaged in a tense standoff

  • with his revolver.

  • Police ordered Craig to surrender the weapon, and Derek, choosing his words poorly, told

  • Craig tolet them have it.”

  • Craig interpreted this as an order to attack and shot and killed a police officer on the

  • scene.

  • Craig was too young to be executed, but although Derek had not fired the lethal shot, he was

  • charged with inciting the murder and later executed for it in 1953 by hanging.

  • Craig left prison in 1963 after serving a decade for murder and became a plumber.

  • Like Timothy Evans, Derek was posthumously pardoned for his crime in 1998.

  • 8.

  • George Kelly

  • Still in England, the Cameo Cinema Murders are two of the most infamous gangland killings

  • from the city of Liverpool - the city that gave us The Beatles.

  • A movie theatre owner and his assistant were both shot dead during a botched robbery, and

  • in the following days, police officers essentially interviewed the entire Liverpool criminal

  • underworld, looking for answers.

  • A number of witnesses pointed to 27-year-old laborer George Kelly.

  • It was a classic set up by police more eager to make a collar than catch the real killers.

  • Charles Connoley, the man suspected of being Kelly's accomplice, was intimidated into

  • pleading guilty because he feared getting the death penalty too, and this only sealed

  • Kelly's fate.

  • He was hanged in 1950.

  • Despite an entirely different man named Donald Johnson actually confessing to the murder

  • the year before.

  • 7.

  • Frank Lee Smith

  • Now to Florida, for the tragic death of Frank Lee Smith.

  • Smith is slightly different from other entries on this list because he was never actually

  • executed by the state, but he did die of cancer on death row while waiting for his execution

  • - a depressingly common affair for death row inmates, innocent or otherwise.

  • But make no mistake, Frank Lee Smith was innocent.

  • Smith was convicted of murder and was convicted and sentenced to death.

  • He remained on death row for 14 years before succumbing to his cancer.

  • However, he was completely exonerated from the crime by DNA evidence...eleven months

  • after his death.

  • If he was never wrongly convicted, he could have spent his last years with his loved ones,

  • rather than rotting in a prison cell for a crime he didn't commit.

  • 6.

  • Mahmood Mattan

  • Back to the UK, in 1952, for perhaps the most clear-cut case of racial profiling on this

  • entire list.

  • Somali immigrant Mahmood Mattan was accused of a brutal murder in Wales by a known racist,

  • despite Mattan being in a completely different place and having a full alibi.

  • However, his poor grasp of English led him to be trounced during his brief trial, where

  • the prosecutor referred to him as, quote, “a semi-civilized savage.”

  • No, that wasn't actually his prosecutor, that was his defense lawyer.

  • That's how stacked the cards were against Mahmood Mattan.

  • He was quickly convicted and sentenced to death, leaving his wife and three children.

  • His wife was never even told of his execution date.

  • She only found out he was dead when she went to visit him in prison and found the notice

  • of his death pinned to a door.

  • The family was later given compensation for this horrific injustice.

  • Nearly 50 years later, that is.

  • 5.

  • Leo Jones

  • Now back to Florida, for the execution of Leo Jones.

  • Jones was accused of the murder of a police officer, a crime that he confessed to, and

  • then was convicted and sentenced to death.

  • However, Jones repeatedly insisted that the confession was coerced, and he was actually

  • innocent.

  • This fell upon deaf ears, and he was executed in 1998, seventeen years after his 1981 conviction.

  • However, some pretty horrifying new evidence soon came to light.

  • The two officers who arrested Jones and extracted the confession were both fired due to a bevy

  • of ethical issues.

  • Most vital for us, though, is the fact that one of the two officers was accused of being

  • anenforcerwho regularly used intimidation and even torture to force bogus confessions

  • out of his suspects.

  • This led an awful lot of credence to the statements of Leo Jones, but sadly, it was too late to

  • do anything about it.

  • 4.

  • Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen

  • For those genuinely enthused in criminal history and the history of forensic investigation,

  • Dr. Hawley Harvey Crippen is one of the most famous murderers of all time.

  • He was believed to have murdered his wife, before trying to flee to Canada with his lover.

  • However, he was the first-ever murderer to be caught with the aid of a remote telegram,

  • allowing the people on the ship to apprehend Crippen and bring him back to England.

  • His fate was sealed when the skin of a human torso was found behind the walls of his home,

  • with an appendectomy scar that matched one on Crippen's missing wife.

  • He was tried and hanged for the murder.

  • However, in 2007, almost a century after Crippen's execution in the early 1900s, researchers

  • discovered that the skin used to convict him may not have actually been that of Crippen's

  • wife, it was actually the skin of a man.

  • This has led to the possibility that Crippen was actually set up by Pathologist Sir Bernand

  • Spilsbury, who simply intended to use the case to advance the public perception of his

  • own forensic methods.

  • 3.

  • Domineque Ray

  • Alabama made headlines in 2019 with the execution of Domineque Ray.

  • Ray was a Muslim, and as such, requested an Imam in his execution chamber to provide religious

  • comfort before he died - in much the same way a Christian inmate can receive this comfort

  • from a reverend or priest.

  • But Alabama denied this to Ray.

  • And not just that, when people looked into Ray's execution, it became clear that the

  • entire basis of his execution was essentially baseless.

  • Ray was accused and convicted of robbery, and murder of a fifteen-year-old girl in 1999.

  • However, the only witness placing him in Selma, Alabama, when the crime took place was Marcus

  • Owden, a severely mentally ill man who had first confessed to the crime himself, before

  • accusing Ray to save his own skin.

  • Marcus suffered from severe schizophrenia, and couldn't be trusted to make his own

  • testimony, but the courts insisted on his competency.

  • Domineque Ray was executed on the words of a man whom nobody should have trusted.

  • 2.

  • Robert Pruett

  • And of course, we return once again to Texas.

  • Robert Pruett was already in a correctional facility for unrelated offenses when it seemed

  • that he had murdered Prison Officer Daniel Nagle for giving him a disciplinary write-up

  • for eating a sandwich in an unauthorized area.

  • The corpse of Nagle was found next to a bloody shiv, and a torn-up copy of the write-up.

  • Seemed like a pretty open and shut case, and Pruett was executed for it in 2017.

  • However, much like Timothy Evans, Pruett ended up actually being the fall guy for a far more

  • sinister plot going on.

  • It turned out that Nagle was investigating a major corruption accusation against some

  • of his fellow officers, who were working with organized crime power players in jail to launder

  • money.

  • Nagle got too close and was murdered by the gangs for trying to expose the corruption.

  • Four of his coworkers were indicted for the exact kind of corruption Nagle was investigating

  • on the same day Pruett was indicted for Nagle's murder.

  • He just happened to be in the wrong prison at the wrong time.

  • And finally, 1.

  • Richard Masterson

  • Yep, it's Texas.

  • Again.

  • Richard Masterson is a unique case because not only is it very likely he didn't actually

  • commit the murder he was accused of, it's also extremely possible that no murder was

  • committed at all.

  • Masterson, in a state of withdrawal from addictive stimulants that caused erratic and often suicidal

  • thoughts and behavior, confessed to the murder of his sexual partner, Darrin Honeycutt, after

  • performing a chokehold on him during consensual erotic asphyxiation.

  • The medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Honeycutt reinforced the idea that they

  • were looking at capital murder here.

  • And in 2016, Masterson was executed for it.

  • But things really aren't that simple.

  • It's now widely believed that the medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Honeycutt

  • was not reliable in any regard.

  • And the jury was not made aware of the fact they could convict Masterson on a lesser charge,

  • such as manslaughter.

  • Subsequent examinations on Honeycutt have shown that he very likely died of a heart

  • attack, meaning no murder was committed here.

  • While on death row, Masterson converted to catholicism and kept in touch with Pope Francis

  • himself, who opposed Masterson's execution.

  • But sadly, in the end, it was all just too little, too late.

  • Something you hear depressingly often in cases of miscarried justice like this.

  • And there you have it: Thirteen people, either definitively proven innocent after their deaths,

  • or at the very least with strong evidence pointing towards innocence.

  • Over 1500 people have been executed in the United States alone since 1975, and while

  • execution is far less frequent in the Western world these days, many people still sit on