The advent of DNA evidence and improved forensic sciences haven’t just helped law enforcement achieve justice. They have also dealt a mighty blow-back against sloppy and inefficient criminal investigations that have imprisoned innocent men and women for months and years and even sent some to Death Row. Some crimes, however, are so so gruesome and ghastly that the rush for punishment clouded the judgment of otherwise reasonable people. But thanks to forensic science, society has been able to find the truth behind these crimes long after they thought they knew what really happened.
1. Alan Crotzer
In 1981 in a Tampa courtroom, five witnesses testified that this man had kidnapped and raped a 38-year-old woman and her 12-year-old daughter during a home burglary. Even the victims themselves positively identified Crotzer as the man who attacked them. Forensic science, however, proved that wasn’t the case.More than 24 years after his initial sentence, DNA testing showed that Crotzer wasn’t the attacker, a discovery that earned him total exoneration and his final release from prison freeing him from the remainder of his 130-year prison sentence. The true culprit who committed the crime as yet to be identified.
2. Bobby Ray Dixon
Justice is meant to work only as fast as the law will allow and unfortunately in the case of this Mississippi man, it didn’t come quick enough. Dixon was convicted of raping and killing a woman in Forrest County, Mississippi back in 1979.The only witness to the crime was the victim’s then 4-year-old son. Police originally arrested two other men and coerced confessions out of all three by threatening them with the death penalty, even though their stories were inaccurate. The first two pled guilty at trial, but Dixon recanted his confession and identified one of the other men as the lone suspect in the crime. Dixon was found guilty and served 30 years for the crime until DNA matching removed him as a suspect. Unfortunately, he died five weeks before he was scheduled to hear his official release.
3. Eddie Joe Lloyd
Crimes against children are always hard to face, specially in the eyes of justice. They become twice as burdensome when justice fails to punish the guilty party and finds another innocent scapegoat to put in their wrongful place. Lloyd was convicted in 1984 of raping and murdering a 16-year-old girl in Michigan, a crime he confessed to police and prosecutors by recording his full confession on the gruesome night in question. DNA evidence, however, freed the man in 2002 after he admitted the confession he gave was false in the hopes that he could somehow use his words to help the real killer make a mistake and lead authorities to his whereabouts. The case raised new awareness and understanding of defendants with diminished mental capacity and the influence of unlawful coercion at the hands of overzealous law enforcement personnel.
4. Byron Halsey
No one can truly understand the indescribable pain and suffering that comes from being convicted of a crime that you know in your heart you did not commit. Imagine not only having to carry that burden but also endure the deceitful words of the man who actually did it helping police put you away for their crimes. Halsey served 19 years in prison for the extremely gruesome 1985 deaths of a 7-year-old girl who was raped and strangled and an 8-year-old boy who had four nails driven into his skull with a brick. Halsey received two life terms for these horrible acts but DNA obtained from the scene more than 20 years later actually showed that his neighbor Cliff Hall had committed the murders. Interestingly, Hall had testified against Halsey during his murder trial. Hall is currently serving time in three unrelated sexual assault charges.
5. Cameron Todd Willingham
This case is particularly irksome not just for the horrific deaths that occurred on that fateful night, but also for the possible cover up of the actions that may have led to another innocent life being lost at the hands of justice. Willingham was convicted of capital murder in 1991 in Corsicana, Texas for killing his three young children by burning their house down while they slept in an alleged attempt to cover-up incidents of child abuse, even though no such evidence existed. At the time of the trial, fire officials determined the cause of the blaze was intentional and a jury sentenced him to death by lethal injection, which was carried out in 2004. Since then, other fire investigation experts determined the methods used to determine the fire’s cause was outdated and new forensic evidence pointed to an accidental cause rather than an intentional one. However, the investigation into Willingham’s arrest and prosecution was quashed just as it began to grow wings as new appointments from the Texas Governor’s Office to the Texas Forensic Science Commission slowed their investigation to a crawl. This was coupled with orders from the Texas Attorney General’s Office that severely limited the Forensic Science Commission’s capacity to even review the case and indeed determine if an innocent man had been killed by the state. Since then, no progress has been made to further the investigation by the state. A former chairman of the Commission called the Governor’s Office’s actions “terribly disappointing”.