It seems like everywhere we turn, there’s a story of somebody falling victim to the broken criminal justice system. For years, innocent people have been receiving harsh, grueling sentences while guilty parties walk free.
The criminal justice system was created to keep citizens safe and to hold the guilty accountable. Instead, petty criminals receive lifelong sentences and hardcore lawbreakers get off with a mere slap on the wrist.
If you’re looking to get a job in the American criminal justice system, you might want to check out this 10 horror stories beforehand.
1. The Central Park Five
In 1990, five young men (Antron McCray, Raymond Santana Jr., Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, and Kharey Wise) were tried for the robbery, assault, rape, and attempted murder of a female jogger in New York City. The boys were aged between 14 and 16 at the time.
The victim, 28-year-old , suffered from brain damage, hemorrhagic shock, and received five deep stab wounds along with a gash on her thigh.
On the night of the attack, a group of more than 30 teenaged boys spent the evening harassing and beating several passersby on Central Park’s East Drive between 9 pm and 10 pm.
Santana and Richardson were apprehended by police and brought to the station for questioning around 10:15 pm, while McCray, Salaam, and Wise were brought in for questioning later.
The names of the young men were released to the press before any of them had been charged, despite police procedure stating that names of suspects under the age of sixteen are to be withheld.
Investigators questioned the teenagers for several hours. All five boys admitted to participating in the rape and the jogger, only after having been coerced by the police to do so.
Salaam, McCray, and Santana were acquitted of attempted murder but were convicted of rape, assault, and robbery. Each boy received the maximum sentence allowed for juveniles: 5 to 10 years in a youth correctional facility. Richardson was convicted of attempted murder, rape, assault, and robbery, while Wise was convicted of sexual abuse and assault.
In 2001, however, Matias Reyes confessed to assaulting and raping Meili, and DNA confirmed his statement.
Without admitting that the five imprisoned boys were innocent, District Attorney Robert Morgenthau dropped all charges against McCray, Santana, Richardson, Salaam, and Wise.
In 2014, a $41 million settlement was finalized, awarding each of the falsely accused men roughly $1 million for each year they were imprisoned. The city, however, still denies any wrongdoing by prosecutors and police detectives.
2. O. J. Simpson
If O. J. Simpson wasn’t a household name during his professional football days, he certainly became one after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and restaurant waiter Ronald Lyle Goldman.
The case, which is described as the most publicized criminal trial in American history, lasted almost a year, with Simpson being tried on two counts of murder.
In true celebrity fashion, Simpson hired a high-profile team of lawyers to represent him. The LA County had thought it had a strong case against Simpson. Three drops of Simpson’ blood had been found in the driveway of Brown’s Brentwood condo, and Simpson’s limo driver said he had driven by Simpson’s house at 10:22 pm and did not see his vehicle parked at the curb like he had testified.
Simpson first claimed he was asleep during the murders, but changed his story several times. A neighbor’s housekeeper testified that she had seen Simpson’s vehicle parked outside his house at the time of the killings, but her story fell apart through intense cross-examination by Marcia Clark.
Unfortunately, Johnnie Cochran, one of Simpson’s lawyers, convinced the jury that there was reasonable doubt about the DNA evidence, which was a somewhat new type of evidence in the early 90s.
On October 3, 1995, the jury found O. J. Simpson not guilty.
After the trial, David Aldana, one of the jurors on the Simpson case, told interviewers that he believed Simpson most likely did commit the murders but that the prosecution failed to prove their case.
As it turns out, Marcia Clark and Christopher Darden neglected to present key pieces of evidence, one being a note Simpson had written before trying to flee, and others being a change of clothes, a passport, and a disguise kit in Simpson’s vehicle.
Another oddity of the trial was that the crime was tried in mostly nonwhite Los Angeles as opposed to mostly white Santa Monica, where murders occurring in Brentwood would normally be tried. The defense made it difficult for the prosecution to challenge potential African-American jurors during the jury selection process, on the basis that it is illegal to dismiss someone from the jury for racially-motivated reasons.
A 2004 NBC News poll revealed that, of the individuals polled, 87% of whites believed Simpson committed the murders, while only 29% of blacks believed that.
To this day, the Simpson case continues to be assessed on the basis of race.
3. Robert Blake
Baretta star Robert Blake was arrested and charged in 2002 in connection with the murder of his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley.
Bakley was fatally shot while sitting in her car after having dinner with Blake at Vitello’s Restaurant. Blake had left Bakley in the car by herself while he ran back into the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left there when the shooting occurred.
On April 22, 2002, Blake was charged with one count of murder, two counts of solicitation of murder, and one count of murder conspiracy, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Retired stuntman Ronald Hambleton testified that Blake attempted to hire him to kill Bakley. Another retired stuntman, Gary McLarty, testified against Blake as well, citing that Blake had also contacted him to “take care” of his wife.
Defense attorneys called McLarty’s mental state and Hambleton’s criminal past into question.
Prosecutors alleged that Blake murdered Bakley to escape a loveless marriage.
On March 16, 2005, the jury found Blake not guilty, while District Attorney Steve Cooley called Blake a “miserable human being” and told the jury they were “incredibly stupid” to fall for the defense’s claims.
Blake has since filed for bankruptcy and written an autobiography, Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love, in which he wrote that he hopes he will be offered one last great acting role before he dies.
4. Kalief Browder
Kalief Browder was arrested in 2010 at the age of 16 while walking home from a party with a friend.
While walking along Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, several squad cars pulled up in front of the pair of teens. Officers began searching them, stating that a man had just reported being robbed by the two boys.
The police found nothing; however, upon retreating to their squad cars where the alleged victim waited, the officers were told that the boys had actually robbed the man two weeks earlier.
Browder and his friend were handcuffed and put into the back of a police car. When Browder asked officers with what they were being charged for, an officer responded: “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely, you can go home.”
Browder’s friend was released until his court date, but due to an incident eight months prior, Browder was held in prison as his case moved through the courts.
The amount set for Browder’s bail was out of his family’s means, so Browder was soon bussed to Rikers Island, a 400-acre island consisting of ten jails. It has become notorious for the neglect and abuse of prisoners, and has been subject to several investigations.
Browder was assigned a lawyer for his case since his family could not afford one and was assured that his case was a straightforward one. However, two and a half months after his arrest, a grand jury had voted to indict Browder on charges of robbery in the second degree “and other crimes”. Browder returned to Rikers Island where he awaited trial without bail.
Browder served three years in prison without going to trial, having his court hearing postponed more than 30 times.
On May 29, 2014, Browder’s case was dismissed and he was free to go. He was 20 years old by this time. He had missed his junior and senior years of high school, his graduation, and his prom; he had no job, no money, and no diploma.
After struggling for years with the memories of his experience in prison, Browder took his own life.
5. Casey Anthony
In 2008, two-year-old Caylee Marie Anthony was reported missing by her grandmother, Cindy Anthony. Cindy had not seen her granddaughter for over a month. Caylee’s mother, Casey Anthony, claimed that she had dropped Caylee at a babysitter’s apartment and that the babysitter had run off with her. Casey told police that she had been too frightened to contact authorities.
Later that month, Casey’s mother, Cindy, found Casey’s car abandoned in a parking lot and alerted the police, claiming “it smelled like there’s been a dead body in the damn car.”
Casey was then arrested on suspicion of child neglect, filing false statements, and obstructing a criminal investigation.
After her arrest, Casey’s car was searched, revealing hair, dirt, and a stain in the trunk. A cadaver dog also picked up the scent of human decomposition.
The following month, a sample of the air from the trunk of Casey’s car was tested and revealed that it once held a decomposing body.
Five months later, Caylee Anthony’s skeletal remains were found [GRAPHIC] in a wooded area close to the Anthony family home.
During the six-week trial, the defense claimed that her father, George Anthony, molested Casey when she was a child. They also stated that Caylee had drowned in the family pool and that George had tried to cover it up.
While on the stand, a forensic expert testified that the “only plausible explanation” for the odor in the trunk of Casey’s car is the presence of a decomposing human body.
Throughout the trial, the defense claimed that any and all lies Casey told to authorities were a direct result of her dysfunctional childhood. They also challenged every piece of the prosecution’s evidence, claiming it was “fantasy forensics.”
After a nearly 11-hour deliberation, the jury found Casey Anthony not guilty of first-degree murder, aggravated child abuse, and aggravated manslaughter of a child. They did, however, find her guilty of four counts of providing false information to law enforcement, two of which were thrown out in 2013.
Casey was sentenced to four years in jail and was released after three years and one day.
6. Duane Buck
Duane Buck is a 52-year-old African-American man currently awaiting execution due to, in large part, the outlandish “expert opinion” of a psychologist for being black.
Buck was convicted of fatally shooting his ex-girlfriend Debra Gardner and her friend Kenneth Butler.
While at the sentencing hearing, Dr. Walter Quijano took the stand and testified that African-Americans are statistically more likely to commit violence, and being black is a definite factor to consider for the future dangerousness of a person.
Prosecutors spent a great deal of time harping on Dr. Quijano’s testimony until the jury agreed that Buck did, in fact, pose a continuing threat and therefore should be sentenced to death, waiving Buck’s right to a fair trial.
In June of 2000, Texas Attorney General John Cornyn recommended that six capital cases, Buck’s included, be reviewed for possible resentencing due to racial bias during the hearings. In all six cases, Dr. Quijano had inappropriately testified that being black was an indication that the defendants were likely to reoffend, consequently sealing the death penalty for each defendant.
All but Buck’s case were reopened for review.
After the denial of many appeals for a new hearing, Duane Buck remains on death row.
7. Ezekiel Gilbert
In 2009, in the state of Texas, a man was acquitted for shooting and subsequently killing a 23-year-old escort for refusing to have sex with him.
On Christmas Eve, Ezekiel Gilbert hired an escort from Craigslist with the intention of having sex with her. He paid the escort, Lenora Ivie Frago, $150 for half an hour of her time.
When the 30 minutes was up and Frago tried to leave, Gilbert grew angry. Frago walked outside to her driver and Gilbert followed, outraged that he didn’t get what he assumed he had paid for. Frago’s driver stepped in to explain that Frago had been hired for company, not sex.
As Frago and her driver got into the car and started to pull away, Gilbert drew his pistol and fired at the car four times, striking Frago at the base of her skull and paralyzing her. Frago succumbed to her injuries seven months later.
Shockingly, Gilbert was acquitted of murder as the jury decided that Gilbert’s actions were justified, agreeing that Frago had stolen his money.
8. George Zimmerman
In February 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking home from a convenience store when George Zimmerman, a member of the neighborhood watch, called the police from his vehicle to report a “suspicious character”.
The police advised 28-year-old Zimmerman to wait for an officer, but Zimmerman instead followed Martin and fatally shot the unarmed teen.
Zimmerman did not identify himself to Martin as a member of the neighborhood watch, and though he claims he shot the teen in self-defense, the Sanford Police Department stated that the injuries Zimmerman presented with that night were not consistent with his claim of a life-threatening altercation.
Naturally, the incident sparked a surge of media coverage with a petition for the arrest of Zimmerman, garnering more than 2.2 million signatures.
A day after deliberations begun, the jury returned a non-guilty verdict on both the second-degree murder charge and the manslaughter charge.
Zimmerman has since reportedly , tweeting to somebody: “We all know how it ended for the last moron that hit me.” He has also been arrested a number of times on a slew of violence and weapon charges.
9. Ethan Couch
A teenager said to suffer from “” has been sentenced to 10 years’ probation for killing four people and seriously injuring two others, all the while drunk driving.
Breanna Mitchell, Hollie Boyles, Shelby Boyles, and Brian Jennings were on the curb assessing the damage to Breanna’s car after her tire blew and swerved off the road.
Ethan Couch came barreling down the road and slammed into the pedestrians, killing them all. Jenning’s truck, with two middle schoolers buckled in the back, was then sent into the middle of the road, slamming into an oncoming car.
Walking away from the wreckage was 16-year-old Couch, whose blood-alcohol level was three times the legal limit for an adult. Along with alcohol, Couch had Valium and marijuana in his system.
During the trial, Couch’s lawyer argued that the teenager was a victim of his family’s wealth and a spoiled childhood.
10. Jameis Winston
In November 2013, an investigation was opened into the allegation that college football quarterback Jameis Winston had sexually assaulted classmate Erica Kinsman in 2012.
A month later, the investigation was closed without any charges being laid.
After conducting its own investigation, The New York Times asserted that neither the Tallahassee Police Department nor the Florida State University had properly investigated the allegations.
Kinsman presented with bruised knees and semen on her body and was able to identify Winston by name as her attacker, but the Tallahassee police never obtained a DNA sample from Winston nor did they interview him about the incident.
Over the course of the investigation, a number of Winston’s supporters took to verbally attacking Kinsman, which has led several rape victims from FSU to claiming they would never speak out against their attackers.
We would like to think that the justice system is put in place to protect the innocent, punish the guilty, and look out for citizens. Clearly, the American justice system is not only riddled with flaws but is arguably broken, letting the guilty roam free and leaving the innocent to spend their lives proving their innocence.
Can you think of any other atrocities in the American justice system? Let us know in the comments section below!