#2. Absurdly Innocent Man Spends 18 Years in Prison, Becomes World's Coolest Dude
Texas police officers thought they had an open-and-shut murder case in 1992: After six people were murdered, a man named Robert Earl Carter confessed (the cops probably suspected him based on name alone). But then Carter and his wife implicated Anthony Graves as an accomplice. After a quick trial, both Carter and Graves were put on death row, and (pretty much) everyone went home to celebrate.
Darrin Klimek/Photodisc/Getty Images
The other death row inmates celebrated a new friend's arrival.
Only for the next 18 years, Graves swore that he was innocent, and with the help of a non-practicing attorney/journalism professor, he finally got the authorities to take another look at the case. The prosecutors discovered that it was, in their words, "a criminal justice system's nightmare." It turns out there was no reason at all to believe Graves was guilty: The prosecutor, Charles Sebeta, had illegally hidden evidence from the court and promised Carter (the guy who actually confessed) that he wouldn't pursue charges against Carter's wife if he promised to name Graves as an accomplice.
That's probably why Carter later took back what he said about Graves, even insisting moments before his execution in 2000 that "Anthony Graves had nothing to do with it ... I lied on him in court." The prosecutors who investigated the case in 2010 (and exonerated Graves) said that "This is not a case where the evidence went south with time or witnesses passed away or we just couldn't make the case anymore. He is an innocent man." Graves was set free, apologized to, and awarded $1.4 million in restitution. Since then, Graves has used his money to start a nonprofit for the children of incarcerated parents and create a law school scholarship in the name of the woman who helped him find freedom. So ... happy ending, right?
Nicole Casarez/Austin Chronicle
Yes. Yes, a happy ending. He's smiling now!
Almost. The prosecutor, Charles Sebeta, continues to rant on his website about how guilty Graves is, and even took out a newspaper ad in 2009 calling Graves "cold-blooded" (although he has kind of made himself a laughingstock in the process). Seriously, dude -- when you're trying to imprison a guy that even the state of Texas has declared pretty all right, it might be time to take a long, hard look in the mirror.
#1. A Man Spends 34 Years in Prison for Stealing Candy
In 1925, 16-year-old Stephen Dennison stole $5 worth of chocolate bars and marshmallows from a roadside stand in Salem, New York. Stealing that much candy seems like the kind of thing that would result in a slap on the wrist and Big Bird teaching you a lesson about morality, but in 1925, it came with an automatic 10-year sentence -- partly because $5 was a lot more money back then, and partly because 1925 was awful.
All pleasure was banned by the government and owned by the gangsters.
Ten years is rough, true, but it won't totally ruin your life: You'll get out when you're 26, and probably even be able to have a normal existence after that. Except a clerical error labeled Dennison as a "low-grade moron," and he was transferred to an institute for "defective delinquents," where he was treated exactly the way you'd expect people to treat "defective low-grade morons." It was such a nightmare that he actually started to lose his grip a bit, and at the end of his 10-year sentence was given a "certificate of lunacy" and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane ... where they basically forgot about him.
Reminder: This all stemmed from some stolen candy.
His "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" defense had backfired spectacularly.
It wasn't until 1960 -- after he had been imprisoned for 34 goddamned years -- that his brother George noticed that the guy had missed an awful lot of Thanksgivings and decided to hire some lawyers. Those lawyers quickly realized what no one else in the entire state had: Dennison should have had another trial back in 1936 to see if he was actually criminally insane, but everyone in charge had just kind of forgot. In apology, the New York courts offered the now tragically old dude $115,000 to make up for them accidentally completely ruining his life. So ... happy ending, right? This time?
Ha, no. Once he accepted the cash, the government said "Gotcha!" and claimed that Dennison wasn't actually entitled to it. Our point here, we guess, is never fucking shoplift.
Related Reading: Just in case this article didn't convince you, not every part of the legal system works. You've heard of police line-ups? Well they're a waste of time. And you won't have any faith in the law left once you read about this jury who consulted an ouija board. Still not sure our justice system is utterly wrecked? Read on.