30 Innocent People Who Were Almost Executed

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List of people who were exonerated after serving on death row

In many states, the death penalty is handed down for the most serious crimes, such as murder. This is a list of people who were exonerated after serving time on death row, having been convicted of crimes they didn't commit and given the death penalty. Though this is a list of people who were proven innocent before they were executed, there are hundreds more people in the United States who were proven not guilty of their crimes, and some who have been put to death, before their innocence was discovered.

Many people are wrongfully convicted of crimes due to lack of forensic evidence to conclude that they did not commit the crime. Unfortunately, the justice system is flawed. Though the jury is trained to make decisions on the notion of "beyond all reasonable doubt," sometimes human error can be a costly mistake and send innocent people to prison, and even death row, for many years. Sometimes, a witness even misidentifies the suspect.

Today, advancements in forensic science have helped DNA testing exonerate many convicted murders and release them from prison. Thanks to the tireless work of many organizations, such as the Innocence Project, many previously convicted felons are now receiving the justice they deserve. Which death row inmates have been proved innocent before they were executed? Read through the list below to find out.
Photo: Metaweb / GNU Free Documentation License

  • Kirk Bloodsworth

    Bloodsworth was convicted of the murder and rape of a nine-year-old girl in 1985, for which he served eight years in a Maryland prison and two years on death row. Bloodsworth was exonerated by DNA testing in 1993.
  • Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon

    Juan Roberto Melendez-Colon
    Photo: flickr / CC0
    Melendez was wrongfully convicted of murder and spent more than 17 years on death row in Florida before new evidence entitled him to a new trial. The state of Florida declined to prosecute Melendez for a second time, as many of their key witnesses had either recanted their testimony, or had died. Today, Melendez is a public speaker and human rights activist living in New Mexico.
  • Randall Dale Adams

    Adams was wrongfully convicted of murdering a police officer and sentenced to death. He was later released when uncovered evidence proved his innocence. 
  • Damon Thibodeaux

    Damon Thibodeaux
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY
    After a forced confession, Thibodeaux was sentenced to death for the murder of a young girl. Though his details were inconsistent with the actual crime, two eyewitnesses identified him in court, leading to his conviction. This testimonies would later be thrown out after both witnesses revealed that they had seen Thibodeaux's photo in the news media. He was released in 2012, after 15 years on death row. 
  • Jay C. Smith

    Smith was a high school principal in Pennsylvania who was sentenced to death in 1986 for the murder of a schoolteacher and her two children in 1979. He served six years on death row until his conviction was overturned due to prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Shareef Cousin

    Shareef Cousin
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY
    Cousin was sentenced to death in 1996, at the age of 16, becoming one of the youngest people to be put on death row in the United States. He was convicted for the murder and robbery of a 25-year-old male in New Orleans but his sentence was eventually overturned when it was found that the detective on the case had lied in order to get an arrest warrant. He was exonerated of all charges in 1999.