We’ve seen people walk away from crimes they did commit, like Robert Durst, whose exceptional case is explored in Oxygen’s The Jury Speaks, premiering Saturday, July 22 at 9/8c. We’ve seen controversies like O.J. Simpson’s murder acquittal and Michael Jackson being exonerated for child molestation, both polarizing cases that left the public divided, and both also subjects of The Jury Speaks. But what about the cases where people were convicted based on circumstantial evidence only? The following convicted murderers are controversial because they might not actually have committed the crimes they’ve been imprisoned for. Here are six people who were convicted by probably didn’t commit the crime.
1. Darlie Lynn Routier
26-year-old Darlie Lynn Routier was accused of killing two of her three sons on June 6, 1996. That evening, Darlie was in the hospital fighting for her life, the result of brutal injuries which she later said were the result of an intruder breaking into the house. According to Darlie, she was asleep in front of the television with two of her sons when she woke to find a strange man standing over her. Her third son and husband were asleep upstairs. The man slashed her throat and arm with a knife, but she fought him off, and chased him out a window in the house’s garage.
Darlie said the man dropped the knife, which she picked up and returned to the living room, where she found her five-year-old and six-year-old sons had also been attacked. She immediately called 911. The police found there were inconsistencies in her story: the window screen in the garage had been cut from the inside, and given the amount of blood at the scene, it looked like the attacked escaped clean, as there was no blood outside the house, a feat the police thought near impossible. Meanwhile, doctors suggested Darlie may have injured herself.
Darlie was charged with the murder of her sons, and at trial, jurors were shown video of Darlie spraying silly string over her son’s graves on what would have been the older boy’s seventh birthday. The video was shown to suggest she was dancing on their graves, but was taken entirely out of context from her ongoing mourning, and her decision to celebrate her son’s birthday, thinking he might be watching from heaven.
Meanwhile, a sock soaked in blood was found a considerable distance away from the house. There was no way Darlie could have made it there and back, plus stabbing herself, in the two minutes between the stabbing and her call to the police. Her husband also admitted he had approached people to break into the house as part of an insurance scam.
There was no motive for Darlie to kill her sons, and plenty of evidence to cast doubt that she did, but she was found guilty and sentenced to death anyway.
2. Thomas Arthur
Thomas Arthur did commit a murder. In 1977, he shot his sister-in-law to death in her workplace when she refused to tell him where his wife was. For the crime, he was sentenced to life in prison. On a work release program, he met a woman named Judy Wicker and the pair became romantically involved. Shortly afterwards, Wicker’s husband, Troy, was found murdered in their house. Judy told police the murder was the result of a botched break-in by a black man who also raped her, but later recanted and said she had arranged the murder herself, paying $10,000 out of Troy’s life insurance policy for the crime. She claimed the man who did the murder was Thomas Arthur. Arthur, already a murderer, was a soft target, and was sentenced to death. Arthur maintained his evidence, saying DNA evidence could absolve him of the crime.
In 2008, a man named Bobby Ray Gilbert contacted police to admit to the murder. The murderer was wearing a wig at the time the crime was executed, but that wig didn’t test positive for either Arthur or Gilbert’s DNA. Meanwhile, Judy’s rape kit mysteriously went missing. Arthur’s legal team fought the charges since his initial conviction in 1982, but earlier this year he was finally put to death in Alabama, with aboslutely no physical or forensic evidence tying him to the Wicker murder.
3. Robert Gene Will II
Robert Gene Will II was a bit of a troublemaker. On December 4, 2000, the 22-year-old was stealing car parts with his friend Michael Rosario in Houston. When police caught them, the pair took off in separate directions. Deputy Barrett Hill caught Will, and called in over the radio that he’d apprehended the suspect. But seconds later, Hill was dead. Will was shot in the hand, and was later caught in a stolen car, 150km away from the scene of the shooting.
The official police story said that Will shot Hill with a gun in his possession. However, not everything added up. For instance, the woman Will stole the car from said he was shooting recklessly, but never mentioned that in her initial statement. It only came to light much later. Meanwhile, even though the officer was shot multiple times, there was no blood on Will, and no gunshot residue on his dominant hand, only some where he himself had been shot. Hill’s gun was still in his holster when he was found, and it had not been discharged. Most tellingly, Will was in handcuffs at the time of the shooting, and the back of his jacket was grazed by a bullet.
A more plausible story was Will’s story. He said his friend Rosario had found him handcuffed, shot the police officer, and helped him get free. Several witnesses also came forward to say Rosario had confessed to the crime. Regardless, Will was found guilty and has been on death row since 2002.
4. Darrell Lomax
Two handguns were found in Darrell Lomax’s car when he was pulled over for a traffic infringement in September 1994. He was subjected to a curbside gunshot residue test and he passed – none was found, suggesting he hadn’t recently fired a gun. However, during the testing, other patrol cars transported witnesses to other crimes to have a look at Lomax, yet none identified him. Regardless, he was arrested for two armed robberies and the murder of a man named Nasser Akbar.
In March 1995 all charges against him were dropped, but his case went ahead despite the prosecution failing to refile or rearrest. Lomax wasn’t informed of this immense penal code violation until many years had passed, and had subsequently been found guilty despite the huge procedural injustice. Meanwhile, there was not a scrap of physical evidence connecting Lomax to the murder, and a witness to the crime said the murderer had dreadlocks, which Lomax never had. As a result, Lomax has been on death row since 1995.
5. Rodney Reed
The body of 19-year-old Stacy Stites was found on a Texas roadside in 1996. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a belt. The first suspect was her fiance, rookie policeman Jimmy Fennell. However, DNA evidence found on her body belonged to 28-year-old Rodney Reed, who initially said he didn’t know Stacy, but later admitted the pair had been having an affair. The police didn’t believe Reed’s story, and at trial, failed to bring witnesses who could confirm that was, in fact, the truth.
Instead, police believed Reed had randomly flagged Stacy down as she drove to work and committed the crime. A black man facing an all white jury, Reed was convicted of the murder. However, following the conviction, it came out that Stacy’s fiance had told witnesses he would strangle Stacy with a belt if he found out she was cheating on him. Meanwhile, Fennell was never actually investigated: the apartment he shared with Stacy was never searched, and the belt used to strangle her was never tested for forensic evidence. Fennell subsequently served 10 years in prison for another sexual assault. Meanwhile, Reed is still on death row for Stacy’s murder, despite the case being half-heartedly investigated, and even Stacy’s family rallying behind him, insisting that it was Fennell, and not Reed, that killed her.
[All photos: Flickr Creative Commons]