5 People Who Were Wrongly Convicted
1. Madison Hobley
On January 6, 1987, Madison Hobley was awakened early in the morning by a blaring smoke alarm. He told his wife to get their baby son and then left the apartment to investigate the situation and help other tenants in their apartment building escape. He tried desperately to rescue his wife’s parents, but was unsuccessful and never found his wife and son again in the blaze. When the smoke cleared, seven people had died including Hobley’s wife, son and in-laws. Police requested that Hobley come down to the station to help in their search for the arsonist. Hobley was brutally questioned, tortured and then arrested on seven counts of murder. Despite the torture and brutality, Hobely never agreed to sign a confession. At his trial, the police were unable to produce any written or recorded confession of guilt. They said their notes had gotten wet and the evidence was lost. They also claimed that Hobley threw a gas can down the hallway in order to start the fire. However, the gas can entered into evidence was found under a sink in a locked apartment. Police also hid forensic evidence that proved the fingerprints on the gas can were not Hobley’s. Yet, they were able to convict him and sentence him to death. Hobely spent 13 years on death row and was finally spared when Illinois Governor Ryan pardoned 10 death row inmates who had been falsely accused.
In 2003, Madison Hobley finally returned home, more than16 years after that horrendous night.
2. Eric Kittler
On March 9, 1997 two armed men robbed a grocery store and murdered Abdel Khalil in the process. Seventeen-year-old Thomas Harvey was questioned by police, admitted his part in the murder, and said that a guy named Eric was also involved. Police showed up at Eric Kittler’s door, and he dutifully went with them to the station. According to police, he confessed immediately and even signed a photograph of himself signing the confession. However, handwriting analysis of the signature showed that it wasn’t Kittler’s and reports show that Kittler, who was not the Eric originally sought, spent over twelve hours in an interrogation room before signing an already prepared statement. Once the statement was signed, officers created falsified police reports, destroyed interview notes, and hid evidence that proved Kittler’s innocence. Kittler was tried as an adult and sentenced to a 35-year prison term. He was released five years later, after winning an appeal.
Harvey, the informant, is presently serving a 25-year sentence for the crime.
3. Scott Sornberger
First Bank in Knoxville, IL was robbed by a man in a baseball cap on January 12, 2000. The only witness, a bank teller, described the perp as male, approximately 5’9” tall, 160 pounds with dark hair, dark eyes, and a clean shaven face. During the viewing of the surveillance tape with bank employees, a couple remarked that the man resembled a former client of the bank. After reviewing the tape at another angle, the employees did not see the same resemblance. However, police pursued Scott Sornberger, the former client, who was 5’ 11” with blond hair, blue eyes, and a mustache. Sornberger and his wife, Teresa, were brought to the police station and questioned. Although their alibis were consistent and Scott didn’t fit the description, the police obtained a warrant for arrest. After re-questioning Teresa repeatedly and threatening to take her children into protective custody, she confessed to the robbery and Scott was arrested. The couple spent more than 4 months in jail. However, the robberies continued in the area and examination of the surveillance videos showed that the robber did in fact resemble Sornberger who was securely locked up.
The Sornbergers were released and later awarded $2 million from the city of Knoxville.
4. Christopher Parish
On October 29, 1996, Michael Kershner was shot in a parking lot during a drug deal that went bad. However, when his family called 911 for help, they reported that he was shot during a home invasion (?!). Inspection of the apartment showed no crime scene, yet the police began a search for the apartment invader. Christopher Parish was arrested despite that his alibi was rock-solid: at the time of the attempted murder, he was 110 miles away with his family. In addition, eyewitness reports that claimed Kershner had bled profusely after being shot could not be substantiated since no blood was found in the apartment. Despite the mountain of evidence that would clear Parish’s name, he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. The prosecution’s entire case had hinged on a fabricated incident that was presented to the jury as evidence. Prosecutors claimed that Parish had threatened their key witnesses just before he testified.
Parish was released, after serving eight years, and all charges were dropped. There was a major shake up of the Elkhart, IL Police Department that revealed widespread misconduct.
5. Alejandro Dominguez
In 1990, Alejandro Dominguez was a 16 year old Mexican national living an unassuming life outside Chicago. Everything changed when a Caucasian woman was raped in a home invasion and Dominguez was called into the police station to be part of a line-up. Through the powerful suggestion of the lead investigator, the victim picked Dominguez as her attacker. In her account of the attack, the victim described the assailant as a man with a diamond earring and tattoo who spoke to her in English. However, Dominguez had neither an earring nor a tattoo and spoke only Spanish. The victim’s testimony was disregarded during the trial in favor of her identification of Dominguez in the line up. Despite that in cross examination the victim admitted that the lead investigator had set her up by saying, “Watch the one sitting on the chair. Tell me if that is the one . . .”
The unfounded strikes against Dominguez were compounded when William Wilson, Northern Illinois Crime Lab’s forensic serologist, testified that Dominguez could possibly be the perpetrator based on blood type. He failed to mention that 67% of the men in the world wouldn’t be excluded as the perp. Consequently, Dominguez served four years in prison and was released for good behavior and time previously served. He exonerated himself 12 years after the crime. DNA testing, which he paid for himself, proved that he could not have been the attacker.
He was awarded $9 million in a civil suit for wrongful imprisonment.