10 Wrongfully Convicted Criminals Who Were Exonerated After their Death

We like to think that the criminal-justice system is always there to protect us from perverted men with deadly intentions, but while most of us sleep soundly in our beds at night, hundreds of innocent people are being convicted for crimes they did not commit. Their only comfort is the fact that they will be around tomorrow, to hold their ground, and hopefully be exonerated. But what could be done in the past, when wrongfully convicted criminals were executed on the spot?

Since 1973 over 130 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row, and according to specialists, there is no telling how many out of the over 1000 people executed since 1976 were actually guilty of their crimes. It is unfortunate indeed to play with somebody else’s life without being certain whether or not you are doing the right thing, and although only a few convicts were exonerated after their deaths, it is suspected that there were many more cases of innocent people being put to death.

Here at TenMania we have already discussed about the 10 Most Deadly Women in History, and we are continuing our list of tragic stories with a compilation of 10 wrongfully convicted defendants who were exonerated after their death.

10 Wrongfully Convicted Criminals Who Were Exonerated After their Death


1. Ellis Wayne Felker

The execution of Ellis Wayne Felker in November 15, 1996 is the perfect example of a corrupt system at work and complete miscarriage of justice. According to the records, Ellis was considered a suspect in the disappearance of Evelyn Joy Lundlum in 1981. Evelyn was a cocktail waitress who was doing all she could to support herself through college. The suspect was put under police surveillance for a couple of weeks, and during this time Ludlum’s body resurfaced. The woman was found dead, raped, and stabbed. The authorities underwent an autopsy to determine the time of death, and after realizing that the truth would eliminate Felker as a suspect, they requested a second autopsy, that incriminated Felker . And the tragedies don’t stop here.

Ellis Wayne Felker

During the trial, the presiding judge told Felker’s attorneys that “his right to a fair trial had been severely compromised”, and this meant that somebody wanted him to take the fall. In spite of the enormous efforts made by the defendant’s attorney’s, Ellis Wayne Felker was found guilty and executed at the age of 48. Even after they had found a written confession by another suspect, and also some boxes of evidence that had been unlawfully withheld, the Supreme Court of Justice denied Felker a new trial, and this meant no chances for exoneration. Felker was the first wrongfully convicted defendant in history to be exonerated after his death, when a Georgia judge accepted to re-test the DNA on the withheld evidence.


2. Charles Hudspeth

The execution of Charles Hudspeth is a truly horrific example of failure in justice. He is in the list of Wrongfully Convicted Criminals. What happened? In the year 1886, George Watkins and his wife Rebecca moved from Kansas to Arkansas. Soon after, Rebecca become intimately involved with Charles Hudspeth.  A year later, George Watkins vanished from his Arkansas home. After waiting a while, the wife came to the conclusion that her lover, must be the one responsible for the horrendous act. During those years, crimes for love were a normal occurrence, especially among people with anger management issues, so it didn’t take long for the unsuspecting lover boy to be found guilty.

Charles Hudspeth

Charles Hudspeth was sentenced to death by the Arkansas Supreme Court based on Rebecca’s testimony. The funny thing is that in 1888 the court reconsidered his conviction, and set it aside after Rebecca’s testimony was barred for lack of good character. Upon retrial, Charles was found guilty once again, and sentenced to death by hanging. The execution happened on December 30, 1892. The reasons for which this case is a horrific example of failure in justice is because only a few months after his death, somebody found George Watkins alive and well in Kansas. Apparently, the man found out about his wife’s “hobbies” and decided to leave without saying a word.


3. Johnny Frank Garrett

Out of all the wrongful executions, this one will definitely send shivers down your spine. It’s not often that people claim they are innocent until the very end. Most of them confess their crimes once they know that the inevitable death is soon to come. Johnny Frank Garrett is one of those people who refused to plead guilty even when things seemed hopeless, and his last words were actually:

“I’d like to thank my family for loving me and taking care of me. And the rest of the world can kiss my ever-loving ass, because I am innocent.”

Johnny Frank Garrett

Johnny Garrett was accused on October 31st, 1991 for the rape and murder of a 76 year old nun, Sister Tadea Benz. At that time, Garrett was 17 years old, and according to a forensic psychiatrist he admitted to the crime. Nevertheless, the expert stated that the convict was suffering from severe brain damage and multiple personalities. Apparently, only one of the personalities admitted to the crime, and the rest of them did not remember the confession. Furthermore, there were no tapes with the confession. Ignoring the pleas to exonerate him, the convict was found guilty and executed in February 11th 1992.

It was only 12 years later that Leoncio Perez Rueda was found guilty for the rape and murder of an elderly woman. The crime occurred four months after the attack on Sister Benz. In addition, both cases presented similar evidence on the crime scene. Rueda later confessed to his crimes, and also claimed he was guilty for the death of Sister Benz. Unfortunately, it was too late to make any difference and is now on the list of wrongfully convicted criminals.


4. Carlos de Luna

Carlos de Luna was at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and unfortunately this mistake cost him his life. In February 1983, a woman called Wanda Lopez was stabbed to death during a night shift at the gas station where she was working. The police underwent a short manhunt, and during it they found Carlos de Luna hiding under a pick-up truck. The reason for which Carlos was hiding was because he had been drinking, and this behavior couldn’t be accepted from a convict released on parole. The police considered that once guilty, you are always guilty, so they ignored the fact that Carlos didn’t have a single drop of blood on him, although the crime scene was a bloodbath.

Carlos de Luna

The trial is another example of sloppy work done by the criminal-justice system. The only eyewitness to the crime, a man called Kevin Baker, stated that de Luna is the criminal. De Luna said that a man called Carlos Hernandez was the one responsible for the crime, because he had been spotted inside the facility, he had a history of knife attacks and also a romantic history with Wanda Lopez. Unfortunately, the two looked very similar, and it is possible for the eyewitness to confuse them. Although many things pointed directly to Hernandez, who was actually bragging to his friends that he killed the woman. On December 1989, the 27-year old Carlos was executed.


5. Lionel Herrera

I am innocent, innocent, innocent… I am an innocent man, and something very wrong is taking place tonight.”

These are the last words of Lionel Herrera, fifth in the list of wrongfully convicted criminals who was executed by lethal injection in 1993. His case is a very twisted one indeed, and although he was found guilty in January 1982, he filled a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court.  The man was accused of two murders. One of them happened on the night of September 29, 1981. The victim was a public safety officer, David Rucker, and he was murdered near the Rio Grande Valley highway. As it turns out, another police officer called Enrique Carrisalez pulled over a speeding vehicle at approximately the same time and was shot by the driver. With his last breath, Carrisalez identified Herrera as the person responsible for his shooting.

Lionel Herrera

The reason for which it is believed that the man was actually innocent, is the confession of his brother, Raul Herrera, who stated that he was the one responsible for the two murders. In several affidavits forwarded by an attorney that represented Herrera’s brother, there was assumed to be more evidence that would exonerate Lionel. However, the Supreme Court considered that the new evidence did not violate the Constitution’s 8th Amendment and Herrera was executed.


6. Mahmood Hussein Mattan

There are times when the zeal of a police can turn a case into a complete nightmare. This was the case of Somalian Mahmood Hussein Mattan, who experienced countless acts of racism since he moved to Cardiff, Walles.  In the year 1952, Hussein was accused of murdering Lily Volpert, a woman who was ambushed in his house. She was killed after the killer slit her throat with Hussein’s razor. The criminal made sure to add some of the victim’s blood on Hussein’s shoes and that was more than enough for the police to find him guilty of the crime.

Mahmood Hussein Mattan

As if this evidence wasn’t enough, the Volpert family, also paid of a criminal to testify at the trial. Mahmood Mattan was sentenced to death by hanging in the Cardiff Prison. It was only years later that the fake witness was found trying to kill his own daughter with a straight razor. This lead to a confusing situation, and after Mattan’s conviction was overturned in 1998, his family received 725.000 pounds in compensation.


7. Leo Jones

Leo Jones

Who says that the justice system is not corrupt has probably never heard of the tragic case of Leo Jones, yet another one of wrongfully convicted criminals who was executed in the year 1998. This man was accused of murdering a police officer named Thomas Szafranski in Jacksonville, Florida. Leo Jones was taken in for questioning a few days later. According to him, he agreed to sign a coerced confession after being interrogated by the police for hours without end. The people who questioned Jones were policemen that were forced out of their uniforms. (also known as “enforcers” who used torture in order to get what they want). In 1997, a retired officer came forward and said that one of the men who forced the confession out of Jones beat him during his arrest.

After this statement, dozens of witnesses came forward, and said that another man was responsible for the murder of Thomas Szafranski. As a matter of fact, even Florida Supreme Court Justice Leader Shaw said that there is something wrong with the case, and that recent evidence on the matter casts serious doubt on Jones’s guilt. Shaw battled the highest heaven’s to reopen the case, but this wasn’t possible and the victim was sentenced to death by electric chair on March 24, 1998. The only thing that he was left with before the sentence was carried out was a meal of his choosing.


8. Cameron Todd Willingham

Cameron Todd Willingham

You’d think that modern times have put an end to such barbaric means of punishing people, but you are wrong. One of the most recent tragedies occurred to Cameron Todd Willingham who was executed in February 17, 2004, for a crime that he did not commit. According to the records, a fire occurred at the defendant’s house in 1991, and in it his three young daughters were killed. Authorities charged Cameron with the murders in an attempt to cover up the fact that he abused his girls. One thing I couldn’t understand is why he was suspected of abusing his daughters, when his own wife declared that he loved them very much.

After countless of laboratory tests it was concluded that the porch near the girl’s bedrooms had fire acceleration fluids applied to them, that would allegedly prevent any attempts of rescue. Although a specialist in the field disputed these claims, the Supreme Court of Justice refused to pardon the defendant, and declared him an “extremely severe sociopath”. This declaration was based on Willingham’s taste in music (he liked Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin). During the trials, the defendant was offered a bargain (plead guilty and receive a life sentence), which he not-so-graciously turned down. Five years after he was put to death, the State of Texas ordered a re-examination that demonstrated Willingham’s innocence.


9. Ruben Cantu

Ruben Cantu

Out of all the sickening cases I have encountered, this one is one of the worst examples of justice being served. Ruben Cantu was charged with capital murder after he supposedly killed a San Antonio man during an attempted robbery. This case was problematic from the very beginning, and the prosecutor was well aware of this fact. He actually expressed his doubt on several occasions but nothing could be done until it was too late. Juan Moreno, who pleaded against Canto at first, confessed later that he was not the one responsible for the shooting, and the only reason why he pleaded against him is because he was afraid of the authorities who pressured him into identifying Canto as the killer.

David Garza, Cantu’s co-defendant during his trial said

Part of me died when he died. You’ve got a 17-year-old who went to the grave for something he did not do. Texas murdered an innocent person”.

What can we learn from this heart-breaking case? Never convict someone for murder based solely on the testimony of an eye-witness. To this day authorities are not certain whether or not Cantu was actually guilty or not, and later statements are contradictory. If you are interested on the subject I strongly recommend you to read Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

10. Claude Jones

Claude Jones

Another appalling case of wrongfully convicted criminals that resurfaced recently is that of Claude Jones, a man who was executed in the year 2000 for a crime, which he surprisingly enough, did not commit. Recent DNA tests have caused a wave of disagreement towards the sentence that was given 20 years ago. According to recent discoveries, the strand of hair that was found at the scene of the crime did not belong to Claude Jones, as was initially considered, and this was the only piece of evidence that was used to determine the fate of another innocent man. During the trial, Jones’s attorneys fought very hard to submit the strand of hair to DNA testing, but they were refused every time. To say that the man was framed would be cheeky, but it seems that this was indeed the case.

The truth is that there was no technology for DNA testing available when Claude Jones was convicted, but by the time of his execution it was possible to verify whether or not it did belong to him. Not even american president George Bush approved of his request, and in the end the man was put to death. After a few years, Judge Paul Murphy ruled in favor of the DNA testing, which proved that the man was not guilty of the crime. Claude Jones’s son said that he feels very relieved to know that his father was innocent, and he also considers that there are serious cracks in the criminal-justice system.

Wrapping Up…

The ten tragic cases of wrongfully convicted criminals prove that the justice system isn’t as safe as the masses think it is. And these are not the only people who have lost their lives for something they did not do. Not only do I not approve with the death row penalty, but I also question the judgments given out by the police force who so easily decide another human being’s life. What do you think? Do you support the death penalty?

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Ioana Sima has discovered her passion for writing a few years ago. Although she hasn't managed to write a best-seller yet she has decided to pursue a career in blogging. She is an architecture student and SEO enthusiast who loves to write interesting articles on different topics. You can find Ioana on and Facebook.


  1. joey styx

    October 13, 2013 at 2:19 am

    Were the overly corrupt police in these cases charged with anything or at least relieved of their duties? This is a terrible thing to happen to any innocent person.

  2. thom

    October 13, 2013 at 12:55 am

    This just shows how flawed the system really is. Barring corruption, there doesn’t seem to be much that can be singled out as the cause of the wrongful convictions.

  3. Melissa Dany

    October 1, 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Hi all! I am Law student in the third year and I must say that, in academic terms the justice is both fair and safe, but the reality check (with all these cases) shows another side of it. I don’t think I will want to work in the criminal field after my graduation… Thanks for the post. Useful insights!

  4. Tim John

    October 1, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Criminals, but actually no criminals? It’s outrageous to play with a human being’s life like this!!!! Oh, my God! How can anyone approve the death penalty, I wonder? Without any doubt, a major reform is needed in the criminal justice system asap! Good job with this article, Triny! Tim

  5. Raysa M

    October 1, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Triny! Despite its tragic outlook, this post is really good. I had no idea about all these terrifying stories, although I’ve read about some of them. Is any country out there with a solid and efficient criminal justice system? I guess not, but we are talking about someone’s life and this is very sad! And no, I can’t approve something like this. Regards!

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