The wrongful convictions of five black and Latino men who have become known as the Central Park Five represent a pattern of racial inequity in the nation’s criminal justice system that is almost as old as the country itself.
So great is the problem that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently announced plans to tackle the issue himself. In comments earlier this year to the Washington Monthly, he acknowledged “growing evidence that substantial numbers of people are convicted of crimes they didn’t commit, and called this reality the ‘ultimate horror’ of our justice system.”
Here are five other examples of wrongful convictions through the years in the United States, including one from the 1930s of the so-called Scottsboro Boys. In that notorious case, nine black youths were falsely charged with raping two white women in Alabama.
1. Gerard Richardson
Richardson was released in October after serving 19 years in prison for murder before DNA evidence proved his innocence. He was convicted in New Jersey of the 1994 murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes based on the testimony of a forensic dentist who testified that Richardson’s teeth matched a bite mark found on the victim’s body. But new DNA testing of a swab taken from the bite mark excluded Richardson as the source and pointed to another male suspect.
2. Daniel Taylor
Taylor, who was exonerated and released from prison in June of last year, filed a lawsuit in February against the city of Chicago and eight detectives and patrol officers for their role in arresting and convicting him of a double murder in 1992. He was accused of murdering Jeffrey Lassiter and Sharon Haugabook, even though police records showed he was in custody at the time of the killings. Prosecutors worked hard to keep the conviction even as his attorneys and Chicago Tribune reporters continued to uncover evidence supporting his alibi.
3. Bennie Starks
Starks was released from prison last year after serving 20 years and after a 25-year battle to clear his name of a rape and battery he didn’t commit in Lake County, Ill. He was convicted based in part on eyewitness misidentification and erroneous bite-mark analysis.
4. Timothy Cole
In 2009 a Texas judge reversed the conviction of Cole, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for the 1985 rape of 20-year-old Michele Mallin, CNN reports. Although he maintained his innocence, it was not confirmed by DNA until years after his death in 1999, when another inmate confessed to the crime.
5. Scottsboro Boys
After a fight broke out between black and white boys on a freight train traveling through the town of Scottsboro, Ala., in 1931, police rounded up all the black boys riding on the train and ultimately arrested nine of them, ranging in age from 12 to 19, according to a report at Innocence Project, a legal group dedicated to freeing wrongfully convicted inmates. Two white girls then came forward alleging that they were gang raped on the train. All nine defendants proclaimed their innocence. But after four separate one-day trials with all-white juries, eight of the nine were convicted and sentenced to death, the report says.
Their appeals would last more than 20 years. On retrial, one of the alleged victims testified that the rape had been fabricated, but all-white juries gave guilty verdicts. In the end, after facing multiple retrials, all of the Scottsboro boys had their convictions dropped or were sentenced to lesser charges. The Alabama Legislature recently introduced a bill to posthumously exonerate the nine Scottsboro Boys.
For more on how race affects wrongful convictions, read here.