Angel Hernandez

13 years

Exonerated on August 15, 2001

 

Angel Hernandez (AKA Eduardo Velasquez) spent thirteen years in prison for a crime he did not commit. On November 23, 1988, a woman was assaulted as she entered her car. Her attacker shoved her into the car and assaulted her while holding a knife against her back. Hernandez was picked up by police almost an hour after the assault, despite not matching the description given by the victim. She then identified him from over 12 feet away, rather than a procedural lineup. A jury convicted Hernandez of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, indecent assault, battery on an adult, aggravated rape, and assault and battery.

Blood typing was the only biological evidence presented at the trial in 1991. This test indicated that Hernandez had the same blood type as the assailant, but it was also stated that approximately eleven percent of the Hispanic population shared this blood type. Angel had worn a goatee since he was 15 years old, but the victim told police the perpetrator did not have any facial hair. A motion was filed to gain access to the evidence for DNA testing.

In 2001 DNA testing was performed on sperm that had been collected as evidence. The results excluded Hernandez, who was exonerated and released on August 15, 2001.

Ulysses Charles

17 years

Exonerated on May 17, 2001

 

In December 1980, an African American man raped and robbed three women after breaking into an apartment in Allston, MA. In 1984, Ulysses Charles was charged and convicted of the rapes after being identified in a photo array by two of the victims and in a line-up by the third victim.

Charles repeatedly refused to take a reduced sentence in return for a confession, always maintaining his innocence. There were many problems with the DNA evidence that was taken from the crime scene, including sperm samples not being preserved. Semen stains from a robe in the apartment were not identified as so during trial, instead an analyst falsely stated that the rapist did not ejaculate. Charles was convicted and sentenced to 80 years in prison. Further evidence came to light that a robe worn by one of the victims did have seminal fluid on it, contrary to what was stated during the trial. In 1999, DNA testing of this material conclusively excluded Charles as the rapist.

In May 2001, the court vacated Charles’ conviction. Citing the number of intervening years and lack of evidence, the Commonwealth decided not to retry the case. Following a federal civil rights suit against the City of Boston, Charles was awarded $3.5 million, after having been awarded $500,000 under the state’s wrongful compensation law.

Anthony Powell

12 years

Exonerated on March 8, 2004

 

In 1992, Anthony Powell was convicted of the kidnapping and rape of a teenage girl and was sentenced to a 12- to 20-year prison sentence. The victim was kidnapped in Roxbury, Massachusetts at knifepoint as she waited for a bus. The assailant raped her in a wooded area and then demanded that she come to a nearby skating rink the following night with $100. The next night, the police staked out the skating rink and picked up Powell.

The victim described her attacker as a clean shaven man, with letters shaved on the back of his scalp. On the day he was picked up, Powell had a full head of hair and facial hair. Regardless, Powell was identified by the victim in a police lineup and charged with rape. He was then convicted based on her testimony.

In 2002, DNA testing of semen found in the rape victim excluded Powell as the attacker. However, the victim claimed that she had sex with her boyfriend before the attack and that Powell may not have ejaculated. In March 2004, after serving 12 years of his sentence, Mr. Powell was exonerated due to the results of the testing. In July 2008, a 35-year old ex-inmate was arrested and charged with committing the crime for which Anthony Powell had served 12 years. Police linked the man to that crime, and three other unsolved rapes.

Stephan Cowans

6.5 years

Exonerated on February 2, 2004

 

Stephan Cowans was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder and other related crimes for the May 30, 1997 shooting of a Boston Police Officer. The officer was shot twice with his own weapon after an altercation. The assailant left his baseball cap and sweatshirt at the scene after firing shots into a neighboring window. He then forcibly entered a home, where he drank a glass of water.

To convict Cowans, the Commonwealth relied heavily on eyewitness identification. The police officer who was injured in the incident identified Cowans as the assailant on two separate occasions. The individual who witnessed the crime though the window also identified him. However, the family that was present in the house that was broken into did not identify him. A latent fingerprint that had been found on a glass mug used by the assailant was also entered into evidence. Prosecutors presented an expert witness that testified that the fingerprint was of Cowan’s left thumb.

From the beginning, Stephan Cowans consistently maintained that he was innocent. Despite the fact that tests on the brim of a baseball cap and sweatshirt worn by the assailant excluded Cowans, the prosecutor insisted that he would re-try the case on the basis of the fingerprint on the mug. However, after re-examining the fingerprint evidence, Boston and State Police concluded that the original fingerprint analysis was mistaken and the fingerprint was not a match for Cowans. After serving over six and a half years in prison, Stephan Cowans was officially exonerated in January of 2004. Unfortunately, Stephan passed away in 2007, just three years after he was exonerated.

James Tillman

16 years

Exonerated July 11, 2006

 

James Tillman was convicted by a jury of rape and kidnapping on September 19, 1989. The conviction was based almost entirely upon the eyewitness identification by the victim. In 1988, the 26-year-old victim was attacked while sitting in her car. Her attacker pushed his way into the car then drove to a secluded spot where he raped, beat, and robbed her.

A forensic analyst testified at trial that serological testing of semen on the victim’s dress could have come from Tillman, as well as about 20 percent of the male population. This report, however, failed to disclose that degradation could have lead to a change in the results. A rape kit had been collected at the hospital after the crime, but the samples in the kit were not tested. The victim identified Tillman in a police lineup and again at the time of the trial.

In 2005, more advanced DNA testing was performed on the victim’s pantyhose and on multiple semen stains on the victim’s dress. The results showed that Tillman was excluded from all of the semen samples and all of the samples matched one another, meaning the semen was from a single source. On June 6, 2006, Tillman’s conviction was vacated after the Superior Court granted a petition for a new trial based on DNA evidence. Tillman was released without bail. Further DNA testing was performed on one more stain on the dress, which also originated from the source on the other stains. On July 11, 2006, the charges against Tillman were dropped, and he was exonerated after spending more than 16 years in prison.

Christian Amado

2 years

Exonerated on August 20, 1982

 

In February 1980, Christian Amado was convicted of the first-degree murder of George Sneed on the steps of an apartment house in the Roxbury section of Boston. Frederick Johnson, who was waiting in the stairwell for someone to answer a doorbell, saw the perpetrator pull a rifle from underneath his coat, shoot Sneed, and run. Police were unable to locate any witnesses on the day of the shooting. A week later, Johnson was called to the police station where he was shown a set of photographs and found one of Amado “familiar”.

At trial, the detectives who had interviewed Johnson said that he had given them the name of the assailant. However, also at trial, Johnson said that he did not recognize the assailant as someone he had seen before. Johnson said he was “positive” the defendant was not guilty. Despite these assertions, Amado was found guilty, based on the officers’ testimony.

In August 1982, Amado’s conviction was reversed by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. The court held that the motion by the defense for a required finding of not guilty at the close of the trial should have been granted, and that evidence was insufficient to sustain a guilty verdict. Amado was released after serving two years in prison.

Shawn Drumgold

15 years

Exonerated in November, 2003

 

In August 1988, two or three masked men fired several shots into a group of people hanging out on the street in Boston’s Roxbury district, killing a 12 year-old girl. Police suspected the motive was gang-related vengeance. The crime received nation-wide press coverage and public outrage placed considerable pressure on police to find the perpetrators. Based on the testimony of several witnesses, Shawn Drumgold and Terrance Taylor, both known gang members, were charged with the crime.

In 1989, Taylor was found not guilty for lack of evidence, but Drumgold was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. His conviction was based on the testimony of four eyewitnesses and was affirmed in 1996 by the Supreme Judicial Court.

For years, Drumgold’s appellate attorney, Rosemary Curran Scapicchio, pursued unsuccessful appeals in state and federal court. It was not until Dick Lehr, an investigative reporter at the Boston Globe, looked into the case in 2003 that it began to unravel. Police officers knew at the time of the trial that a key eyewitness who had testified that she saw Drumgold with a gun leaving the scene of the crime had brain cancer, which could affect her memory, perception, and cognitive function, but this information was withheld from the prosecution and the defense. Many eyewitnesses, who were teenagers at the time of the killing and were frightened to speak, began to come forward 15 years later. Police had threatened to arrest a 16-year-old girl, who had verified Drumgold’s alibi, if she did not implicate him. Two teens, one bribed by police with housing, food, and money and the other frightened and intimidated, gave damaging evidence at the trial that was dictated to them by police. These, and other eyewitnesses recanted their earlier testimony or offered new exculpatory information about events at the time of the shooting.

Based on the new testimony, an evidentiary hearing was held in July, 2003, at which point Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Rouse vacated Drumgold’s conviction, saying “justice was not done” at his 1989 trial and that the “system had failed”. The district attorney decided not to retry Drumgold, but would also not consider him exonerated.

In October 2014, Shawn Drumgold, was awarded $5 million in damages by a US District Court after the court found former Boston police detective Timothy Callahan liable for violating Drumgold’s civil rights.

Donnell Johnson

5 years

Exonerated on March 28, 2000

 

Donnell Johnson was let out of prison in 2000 after serving almost five years for murder. Johnson was arrested in 1994 after a 9-year-old boy was killed outside of his grandmother’s house. The boy was counting his Halloween candy when two men walked into the group he was with and started shooting. Johnson was sixteen years old when he was identified as one of the shooters.

Though the police believed that the shooting was gang related, Johnson was arrested one day after the shooting based on eyewitness identification. Family members identified Johnson in a police lineup despite their account that it was dark out and the shooters were wearing hoods. Johnson’s grandmother stated that he was watching football at the time of the shooting. Even with this alibi, Johnson was convicted in 1996.

A 1998 appeal was shut down, however, during an unrelated federal drug investigation in 2000, a gang-member came forward and confessed to the crime; claiming that Johnson had nothing to do with it. Because of this evidence Suffolk D.A. Ralph C. Martin publicly admitted error in this case, and publicly apologized to Johnson.

Bobby Joe Leaster

15 years

Exonerated on December 26, 1986

 

Bobby Joe Leaster was arrested in 1970 for the murder of Levi Whiteside, a Roxbury, Massachusetts store owner who was shot and killed during a holdup. Leaster was standing on a sidewalk in the South End when he was arrested; the clothes he was wearing fit the description of the person who shot Whiteside. Leaster was presented to the wife of the victim, and she promptly identified him. However, Mrs. Whiteside was nearly hysterical and had to be sedated twice that same day. Later on, she lost certainty that Leaster was the perpetrator. One woman in the store initially stated that she had not seen the shooting ouccur, bt changed her story in court and identified Leaster.

Thought Leaster was not at the crime scene, his alibi did not hold up. He was with his girlfriend at the time of the robbery, but she lied to police due to fear of harassment for being a white woman living with an African-American man. There was no physical evidence linking Leaster to the crime. The victim had hit the shooter in the face with a coffee mug, but Leaster had no cuts or bruises when he was arrested. The perpetrator’s watch was also found at the scene but Leaster was wearing one himself when he was arrested.

Six years after his conviction, Robert and Christopher Muse, two Boston attorneys, took up Leaster’s case. The Muses worked for nine years without any major successes. Then, in 1986, Mark Johnson, a Boston school teacher, was reading an article about Leaster. Johnson was 13 at the time of the shooting, and had witnessed the attack. Johnson saw two men fleeing the scene, and said with certainty that neither of them was Leaster. Based on this evidence, a new trial was granted. The district attorney declined to re-try Leaster and he was released.

Marvin Mitchell

7 years

Exonerated on May 23, 1997

 

In 1988, an eleven-year-old girl in Dorchester, Massachusetts was waiting for her bus. She was then abducted and raped. The girl originally described her attacker as a slim, tall, light-skinned black man in his early twenties or late teens, with short hair, and a long and narrow, clean-shaven face. She also stated that the man had one crossed-eye and was wearing a red and white shirt with a college logo on it and pink pants. The day after she was attacked, the police drove her around the neighborhood in attempt to find her attacker.

Mitchell was identified as the girl’s attacker despite the fact that he matched did not match the victim identification. At the time, Mitchell had a mustache and a goatee. He was picked up because the victim mistakenly thought Mitchell had a crossed-eye. In court, the victim again identified Mitchell, making up a large portion of the evidence against him. One analyst stated during testimony that Mitchell could not be excluded by serological tests on semen from the crime scene. He failed to state, however, that no one could be excluded because the tests revealed blood group markers identical to the victim’s markers. Mitchell was convicted of one count of forcible sexual intercourse and one count of forcible unnatural sexual intercourse. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Mitchell’s appeals were denied, however in 1997 additional testing showed that his DNA did not match the semen sample taken at the crime scene. The Suffolk County District Attorney did not seek a new trial and Mitchell was exonerated after spending seven years and three months in prison.

James Hebshie

4 years

Exonerated on June 20, 2011

 

James “Jimmy” Hebshie was convicted in 2006 of an arson that destroyed a building in Taunton, MA. Seven minutes after he left Main Street Lottery & News Store, a fire broke out that severely damaged the building. The owner, Hebshie, was immediately made a suspect. He was indited after an investigation by the local fire department and insurance company.

His conviction was based on fire science that has since been widely discredited. Detectives quickly zeroed in on Hebshie as a suspect, stating that he set the fire in order to collect a $30,000 insurance policy. It was determined by State Trooper David Domingos, an investigator in the State Fire Marshal’s Office, that the fire had been deliberately started in Hebshie’s convenience store through Domingo’s use of an “accelerant sniffing” dog. A petroleum distillate was discovered. This substance, characterized as a “poor” accelerant, could have been all over the building, but this was never determined due to the detectives failure to take control samples.

On November 15, 2010 Hebshie was granted a new trial, calling his counsel ineffective for failing to challenge the fire science testimony. He was released on bail two days before Thanksgiving 2010. On June 20, 2011 the government filed a motion to dismiss all charges. James Hebshie passed away at the age of 69 in 2015. This was only four years after he was exonerated.

Bernard Baran

22 years

Exonerated in June, 2009

 

In 1985, at the age of 19, Bernard Baran was given concurrent life terms for three counts of child rape and five counts of indecent assault and battery of a child. The alleged victims were children who attended the day care program where he had been an assistant for three years. Following accusations of molestation against him by one family, school authorities and parents interrogated other children, eliciting four more accusations. The high profile Fells Acre Day School sexual molestation cases were dominating national news at the time. In 1986 the Appeals Court affirmed his conviction.

At the time Baran was openly gay, and the prejudice associated with this may have contributed to his conviction. Baran’s trial attorney was inexperienced in criminal law. At the trial, highly edited and inculpatory videotapes of interviews with the children were shown to the jury while the unedited, more exculpatory, tapes were neither requested by nor disclosed to the defense. Also, the prosecution suppressed one child’s pretrial recantation. The investigators’ interrogation techniques were later found to be suggestive, and the trial court allowed the prosecutor to appeal to the jury’s homophobia.

Over time, a substantial group of Baran supporters organized around getting him a new trial. The supposedly “lost” original videotapes were discovered by a new District Attorney shortly after the death of the original District Attorney in the case. In 2006, the court reversed Baran’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Subsequently, in 2009 the District Attorney dropped all charges against Baran and his case was dismissed. Baran later filed a lawsuit and the state settled the case for $400,000. In September of 2014, just five years after his exoneration, Bernard passed away.

Dennis Maher

19 years

Exonerated on April 3, 2003

 

In March 1984, Dennis Maher was found guilty of the rape and assault of two women in Lowell on consecutive evenings in November 1983. In April 1984, he was convicted of the August 1983 rape of a third woman in Ayer. Maher was arrested on the night of the second assault in Lowell because he matched the victim’s description of the perpetrator wearing a red hooded sweatshirt. There was no DNA evidence linking him to the crime, but the three women did pick him out from photographs, despite their varying descriptions. After his second trial, Maher was sentenced to life in prison. Under Massachusetts law in effect at the time of his convictions, he was also civilly committed to Bridgewater Treatment Center.

Maher, a U.S. Army sergeant at the time of his arrest, consistently asserted his innocence. In December 2002, DNA test results excluded Maher as the source of semen in the Lowell rape cases. In February 2003, the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office located a slide prepared from the rape kit of the Ayer rape at the Ayer Police station. DNA testing on this slide excluded Maher as the source of semen in the Ayer rape. In April 2003, after 19 years in prison, Dennis Maher was exonerated. Today, Maher is married with two children and is a member of the New England Innocence Project’s Board. Maher does speaking engagements throughout New England to promote awareness about wrongful convictions. He has also testified in front of various New England legislatures about reforms that would decrease the number of wrongful convictions.

Scott Hornoff

6 years

Exonerated on November 6, 2002

 

Jeffrey Scott Hornoff was a 27-year-old detective with the Warwick, Rhode Island Police Department until he was charged, tried and convicted in 1996 of first-degree murder.

In the summer of 1989, Victoria Cushman was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher and porcelain jewelry box. When questioned, Hornoff admitted to superiors that he knew Ms. Cushman. After requesting and passing a polygraph examination supporting his claim of innocence, certain members of his police department prodded the Attorney General to appoint the Rhode Island State Police to investigate Hornoff. While there was no physical evidence or any witness identification linking him to the murder, Hornoff went to trial years after Ms. Cushman’s murder, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.

He served six years, four months and 18 days of a life sentence for another’s crime, and was freed on November 6, 2002, five days after Ms. Cushman’s boyfriend, Todd Barry, came forward and confessed to the crime.

Hear Scott's story in his own words

Neil Miller

 

10 years

Exonerated on May 10, 2000 

 

On December 19th, 1990, Neil Miller was convicted of aggravated rape while armed and breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony in Boston, Massachusetts. Miller’s conviction rested almost entirely on the eyewitness testimony of the victim, who had failed to identify her attacker from photographs. She gave the police a composite drawing, which was later seen by a police officer who said it reminded him of Miller.

The victim was shown Miller’s photo, which was taken after he had been convicted of a non-sexual crime, and picked it out of a mug book. At trial, a scientist from the Boston Police Crime Laboratory testified that Miller could not be eliminated as the source of semen stains that were found on the victim’s bedding, but it may not have come from him.

Almost ten years later, additional and more sophisticated testing was performed on the samples and the test results definitively excluded Neil Miller as the source of the sperm found. In May 2000, Neil Miller was exonerated after spending 10 years in prison. In March 2006 the city of Boston agreed to pay Neil Miller $3.2 million to settle the wrongful conviction suit he filed in 2003.

Donate to the New England Innocence Project today.

Kenneth Waters

18 Years

Exonerated on June 19, 2001

 

Kenneth Waters spent eighteen years in prison for a murder he did not commit. His conviction of murder was vacated in 2001 with the help of his sister, Betty Anne Waters (pictured right).

On May 21, 1980, the victim was found dead in her bed at home. Waters was interviewed by police that day, but was not charged with the murder until two years later, based largely on the testimony of two ex-girlfriends. The perpetrator left no fingerprints, but hairs and blood were present at the crime scene and, using the technology available at the time, tests purportedly proved Kenneth Waters was the killer. He was convicted in 1983.

After Waters lost his appeals, his sister Betty Anne put herself through law school in order to take over her brother’s case. Aware that new technology made it possible to test biological evidence and use DNA to prove innocence, Betty Anne Waters hunted down the old crime scene blood samples in a courthouse basement. In 1999, she asked for her brother’s DNA to be tested for a match against the blood samples, and in 2001 the results came back, excluding Kenneth Waters as the possible perpetrator. His conviction was vacated and he was freed in March 2001. In 2010, a movie called ‘Conviction’ based on Kenny and Betty Anne’s life was released.

Conviction shows Betty Anne’s 18-year struggle to free her brother. Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase to NEIP if you use this link to purchase the DVD.