If you’ve been binge-watching Netflix’s latest hit “Making A Murderer,” you know that officers of the law can sometimes ignore evidence or do even worse things if they want to get somebody behind bars. Steven Avery spent 18 years in prison for a sexual assault that he didn’t commit, proclaiming his innocence the whole time. Now he’s back in jail for allegedly murdering Teresa Halbach, despite overwhelming concerns about the behavior of police handling the case. With that in mind, let’s explore ten more stories of ordinary people who were put away by cops for crimes they didn’t commit.
Donald E. Gates
Typically when the police set up a frame job, they make it for something big. Washington, D.C. native Donald Gates knows that all too well. In 1982, Gates was given a life sentence for the rape and murder of Catherine Schilling. From the prosecution’s side, it seemed like a slam dunk – cops had an eyewitness and a match from an FBI hair analyst. Unfortunately, that informant was giving false testimony to get out of a felony charge and the analyst was similarly discredited. Gates was innocent, but spent the next 27 years trying to prove it. Eventually, DNA testing exonerated him and proved that the real suspect was a temp who worked in the victim’s building. For his suffering, Gates was given $75 and a bus ticket to Ohio.
New York can be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and the police department is no exception. In 1990, the shooting death of rabbi Chaskel Werzberger shocked the Hasidic community in Brooklyn, and cops quickly fingered a man named David Ranta for the crime. The investigation was led by Louis Scarcella, who had a strong reputation for closing cases, and he brought in a number of eyewitnesses who put Ranta at the scene. He served 23 years in prison before an investigation into Scarcella’s methods revealed that he’d investigated a thief named Joseph Astin but dropped the lead – even after Astin’s widow told cops he’d committed the murder. In addition, witnesses told cops that Scarcella had coerced their statements and told them to point Ranta specificially out in a lineup of suspects.
If you’ve watched “Making A Murderer,” one of the things that probably made you the maddest was the confession by teenager Brendan Dassey, which was key to the prosecution and clearly coerced out of him. Dassey’s subnormal IQ made him an easy mark for aggressive investigators, and he’s not the only one. In December 1983, police in Florida tapped 15-year-old Anthony Caravella for the rape and murder of a 58-year-old woman, eventually getting him to give four separate (and contradictory) confessions. Caravella, who has an IQ of 67, was convicted almost solely on his statements (there was no physical evidence) and given life in prison. In 2009, DNA evidence cleared him and he won a $7 million settlement against the cops who put words in his mouth and cost him 26 years of his life.
What’s worse than finding the dead body of your own mother? Having police beat the hell out of you until you falsely confess to her murder. Chicago native Corethian Bell, like several of the other tragic individuals on this list, is mentally challenged, and the police held him for a staggering 50 hours, accusing him of killing her while punching him and telling him he failed a lie detector test. Bell tearfully confessed, thinking that it would cause the abuse to stop and he would have a chance to explain himself in front of a judge. That didn’t happen, and he was imprisoned for 17 months until DNA evidence cleared him and implicated DeShawn Boyd, who was guilty of similar crimes.
If you’ve ever watched a cop show on TV, you know that the need to clear cases is an obsession. When unsolved murders start to stack up, politicians get nervous. So in 1993, when Gary Gauger called 911 to report that his mother and father were dead, the lens of justice fixed on Gary. He claimed to have been sleeping when the murders occurred, but police told him that they’d found a bloody knife in his pocket and bloody clothes in his room. Unsure of what happened, Gauger was cajoled into talking about a hypothetical situation in which he could have blacked out and murdered his parents, which was then used as an actual confession in court. He was sentenced to death, despite the lack of a single piece of physical evidence. Fortunately, his conviction was overturned in 1996 and a pair of bikers were convicted of the crime the next year.
Drug possession is one of the easiest frame jobs that cops know how to do. With access to evidence lockers, it’s trivial to slip a baggie of an illicit substance into a suspect’s pocket and “find” it at the same time. It took the case of Jaime Chavez to show just how common the practice was. Chavez was picked up by the police in Dallas in 2000 along with four other men for possession with intent to sell. The prosecution’s star witness was a man named Enrique Alonzo, who claimed Chavez had brought the drugs with him. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but it was later discovered that Alonzo had been working with the Dallas PD on dozens of set-up drug busts, often times planting ground-up sheetrock on his victims for “cocaine.” Chavez was released after almost three years in jail, and since then over 80 other victims of the scam have stepped forward.
The power of the police department is an irresistible lure for organized crime, and tons of crooked cops have been under the Mafia’s thumb through history. One of the nastiest was Louis Eppolito, and the Barry Gibbs case is what eventually led to his undoing. In 1986, a woman’s body was found by a Brooklyn highway, and Eppolito led the investigation to a man named Barry Gibbs. Eyewitness testimony and jailhouse snitches helped the state convict Gibbs of the murder, but on appeal some very strange things came to light — much of the evidence had been “lost” or destroyed. Internal affairs started looking into the retired Eppolito and discovered that he’d been working with the Mob his whole career and had committed at least eight murders for them. The eyewitness in Gibbs’s case confessed that Eppolito had threatened his family if he didn’t lie in court, and justice was finally served in 2005 when Gibbs was released. Eppolito got 100 years plus life in 2009.
We’re not going to defend the actions of any of the policemen implicated in this feature, but we have to give some blame to the War on Drugs as well. With cops driven to put arrests on the books, they’re more likely to bend the rules to get those numbers. Kareem Torain is one of hundreds of innocent people in Philadelphia who were jailed for drug crimes they didn’t commit, and he spent 13 years behind bars before being exonerated. In 2001, Torain was picked up on the street despite not having any drugs on him, and officers used his arrest to get a search warrant and then planted contraband in his apartment to charge him. He was released in 2014 and is currently suing the city after one of the arresting officers was caught stealing money from another home.
The stories we’ve shared so far have all had relatively happy endings, with the wrongly accused eventually released from prison to get on with their lives. This one? Not so much. When a woman is murdered, the first suspect is almost always the husband. That’s why cops in Wales focused on Timothy Evans when his wife and infant daughter turned up dead in 1949. Evans gave a number of contradictory statements to police, and statements from Evans’ neighbor John Christie were used to find him guilty and put him to death by hanging. Unfortunately, in 1953 it was discovered that Christie himself was a serial killer who had murdered at least six other women in the same way. Investigations revealed that police had essentially dictated Evans’ confession to him, and he was given a posthumous pardon.
Let’s close this out with a case involving a police officer framed by his brothers in blue. Sultan Alam was a cop in the Cleveland, UK force who found himself the target of a number of mean-spirited racial jokes. When he filed a complaint against the officers who were leading the harassment, the department retaliated by framing him for stealing auto parts, which landed him in prison for nine months. As you probably know, convicts don’t take too kindly to cops behind bars, and his time in jail left him traumatized. Even though the conviction was later overturned, Alam’s career was over and his marriage fell apart in the aftermath.
10 PEOPLE FRAMED BY COPS FOR CRIMES THEY DIDN’T COMMIT