5 Exonerated Criminals Who Did Worse Stuff After Being Free
Advances in the science of DNA have benefited the world in a lot of ways. Like television, for example! Just where in the hell would we be as a society if entertainment options like Forensic Files and The Nightmare Next Door didn't exist? We talk about a few picks for the best true crime show of all time on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comics (and hosts of the White Wine True Crime podcast) Kari Martin and Caitlin Cutt.
It hasn't just been murder shows reaping the rewards of DNA testing. All around the country, men and women who'd been locked up for crimes they didn't commit have been exonerated after DNA evidence proved their innocence. That's a good thing, and that's almost always where the story ends. Almost.
In some cases, though, getting released from prison after years of wrongful incarceration is just the beginning of the story. For example ...
Steven Avery spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. Sad, right? Well, I promise your sympathy will be short lived. Let's power on, though.
In time, as has been the case for so many other "lucky" souls, DNA evidence tied the crime to another man. Avery was convicted on the basis of a witness identification and nothing else. As it turned out, he somewhat resembled the actual perpetrator. Sure, he delivered a whopping 16 alibi witnesses who were able to place him too far away from the scene to have possibly committed the crime, but that still wasn't enough to convince a jury of his innocence.
Remember, they're just average, everyday shitheads like the rest of us.
They deliberated for less than five hours before sending him to prison.
Almost two decades later, the Wisconsin Innocence Project picked up Avery's case and requested that DNA evidence that was present at the scene be tested by the courts. Sure enough, Steven Avery was cleared.
His case was so influential that on Oct. 31, 2005, lawmakers introduced "The Avery Act," a bill intended to prevent wrongful convictions like his from happening in the future.
The Insane Twist
On the exact same day the Avery Act was introduced, a photographer named Teresa Halbach was scheduled to meet with Steven Avery at a salvage yard he owned to take pictures of a minivan for Auto Trader Magazine, which she did freelance work for. She kept that appointment, and was never seen alive again.
The details of what's alleged to have happened during that ill-fated visit are too heinous to relay here, but on Nov. 11, 2005, Steven Avery was arrested for the murder of Teresa Halbach. His nephew was also implicated and charged in the crime. On March 18, 2007, Avery was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the crime.
Except for real this time.
It's tempting to assume that something about being an innocent man forced to spend years in prison might have had a role in turning Steven Avery into what he eventually became, and, sure enough, there will be some stories that read exactly that way on the rest of this list. That's probably not the case with Avery, though.
He'd been in trouble from the age of 18, when he was convicted of burglarizing a bar and spent 10 months in jail. There are certainly worse crimes you can commit, like ramming your female cousin's car, forcing her to pull over and putting a gun to her head, which he also did.
A few years prior, another relative admitted that he helped as Avery took his own pet cat, doused it in oil and gas and tossed it onto a bonfire so they could watch it burn to death.
And you wonder why cats don't like to be carried.
That's serial killer shit, unjust incarceration or otherwise. Don't get me wrong, it certainly can't have helped much (aside from the part where it kept him from killing women and pets for 18 years), but prison didn't turn Steven Avery into a bad guy. He was already that way before the prison system really got a hold of him.
For what it's worth, the "Avery Act" was later renamed out of respect for the Halbach family.
Thaddeus Jimenez, for all intents and purposes, never had a chance. By the time of the crime that got him wrongly incarcerated, he'd already been arrested 22 times. He was also just 13 years old. That's not a promising start, but turning things around definitely isn't out of the question when you still aren't even old enough to drive. That turnaround is unlikely to happen in prison, though, and that, unfortunately, is where Thaddeus Jimenez spent most of his formative years.
In 1993, at the age of 13, he was convicted of murder in a gang shooting that he wasn't responsible for.
Unfortunate stock photo alert!
A friend who held a grudge fingered him as the person who pulled the trigger, and the accusation stuck until 2009, when the conviction was finally overturned.
If there's a bright side to the story, it's that in 2012 a jury awarded Jimenez $25 million in damages from the state of Illinois. It was the largest award ever given for wrongful imprisonment at the time.
The Insane Twist
Unfortunately, money can't fix a lifetime of being raised in the harshest conditions imaginable. The reason Thaddeus Jimenez had been arrested so many times by the age of 13 was because, at the age of 11, he became a member of the Simon City Royals, a Chicago street gang.
Rap remix of that Lorde song forthcoming, I assume.
That was the gang he was alleged to have been killing for when he was wrongly sent to prison so many years ago. If you think that affiliation was just going to end because he went to prison, you've clearly never seen a single prison movie. By sending him into the system at that age, the state basically guaranteed that what family structure might have remained around him by then had zero chance of actually helping to raise him. Of course, what help they would have been at that point is debatable. His father abused his mother, eventually causing her to leave the family. His older sister went to prison for murdering her husband. In other words, Thaddeus Jimenez was raised with violence.
So, it really shouldn't come as too much of a surprise that, despite being the beneficiary of a lottery-like financial windfall, he's been nearly incapable of staying out of trouble, being arrested multiple times since his civil suit was settled. It's even less surprising that he turns up around the 1:18 mark of this video ...
... flashing gang signs and talking about his love for the Simon City Royals. After going to prison at an age when most of us are still nervous about our first day of high school, they're probably the closest thing to a family he's got left.
It's easy to understand how Chad Heins would have been the main person of interest in the death of his sister-in-law, Tina Heins. He'd been living in the apartment that she shared with his brother, who was stationed aboard a Navy ship at the time of the crime. On the night in question, Chad Heins came home around 12:30 a.m. after a night of drinking to find the apartment empty. He promptly fell asleep on the couch.
According to his story, he woke up a few hours later to find several small fires burning around the apartment, including one on the couch he'd been sleeping on. After putting out the fires, he discovered the body of Tina Heins. She'd been stabbed 27 times. So ... he just slept through all of that?
Better than getting murdered through it, I suppose.
It seemed improbable, and that fact went a long way toward convicting him of the crime, despite a complete lack of physical evidence against him. Eventually DNA evidence would clear his name. It was also revealed that he suffered from a rare sleep disorder that, when coupled with a night of drinking, made him nearly impossible to wake up under any circumstances, even while a brutal murder is happening a few rooms away.
Unfortunately, the person responsible for the murder of Tina Heins was never identified or caught.
The Insane Twist
Apparently, Chad Heins made a few solid connections during his 13 years in prison. In 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Heins on charges that he and four others conspired to commit tax fraud by submitting hundreds of thousands of dollars in false tax returns to the IRS. The incidents took place between 2007 and 2011. Two of the men charged in the plot were fellow inmates at the same prison where Chad Heins served his time.
Time for taxes? They've got plenty!
It's alleged that the group used stolen social security numbers to file false returns. Heins then opened several bank accounts to deposit the money and helped distribute the earnings to the rest of the group.
The weirdest detail is that this all alleged to have started in 2007. That's the same year the murder charges against him were dropped, which only happened after prosecutors spent a year deciding whether or not to try him again. In other words, he had to know he stood a pretty good shot at getting out of prison soon, and that's when he decided to try his hand at crime. That's interesting timing, if nothing else.
Here's the real question, though -- if he is eventually convicted of this crime, what are the chances those 13 years he spent locked up on bullshit charges will count toward his next sentence? (Zero. There is zero chance.)
Andre Davis was two decades into his prison sentence for the rape and murder of a 3-year-old girl before he ever asked anyone to look at his case again. He did that by sending a letter to the Center On Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University. They immediately agreed to help, mostly prompted by Davis' offer to take a DNA test, a bold move considering there was plenty of DNA evidence at the scene.
Let's pretend it all just looked like this.
It would take years of filing motions and waiting on test results, but finally, after 32 years of incarceration, Andre Davis was released. The DNA evidence was tied back to the man who owned the house where the crime happened. Somehow, this wasn't enough evidence to lead to an arrest, but at least an innocent man wasn't behind bars anymore.
The Insane Twist
Unfortunately, if police are to be believed, he didn't stay innocent for long. A few short years after his release, Davis was at a dice game when a dispute broke out between his nephew and another man. After the nephew shot the man with whom he was arguing, Davis noticed that the man was still breathing and immediately called for help.
Kidding! According to the allegations against him, he threw the man in the trunk of his Cadillac and drove to a remote location, where he then stabbed him four times, finally killing him.
Of all the cases listed here, this one more than any speaks to the possibility that, maybe, spending decades in prison, especially when you're not supposed to be there, tends to change a person.
A bold stance to take, I know.
He didn't have a history of setting cats on fire like Steven Avery. He wasn't born into a cycle of poverty and gang violence like Thaddeus Jimenez. He was just a relatively well-off teen who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and ended up in prison for it.
It wasn't until he came out the other end of that ordeal that he, again, according to police, became an actual murderer. There's no way to prove it, but it's hard to imagine that time in prison didn't go a long way toward helping him become the criminal the state of Illinois once wrongly suspected him of being.
Michael McAlister has a problem. Well, he's got a lot of problems, as you'll soon read, but the chief problem among them is his predilection for exposing his genitals to people who don't necessarily want to see them. We have a term for people like that, and that term is "sex offender."
Unfortunately, he's also quite possibly the unluckiest sex offender of all time. See, McAlister was convicted of attempted rape of a woman based solely on the victim identifying him in a photo lineup. The problem is that the perpetrator's face was partially covered. He was also wearing a plaid shirt. Before taking his picture for the photo lineup, a detective asked McAlister to put on a plaid shirt. No one in any of the other photos was wearing a plaid shirt.
So, how does this make McAlister unlucky? Well, because at the time of the crime, a serial rapist was terrorizing women in the apartment complex where he lived. The man was described as tall, with long blond hair and a beard. That man was Rodney Derr, who is currently serving three life sentences on different rape charges. Here's what the two men looked like at the time of the crime.
Cover the top half of their heads with a stocking cap and those men are twins.
Police had already been tracking Derr on suspicion that he was committing sex crimes and, in fact, at one point he pulled on a ski mask and approached a female undercover officer who was there as a decoy in the same apartment complex where McAlister is alleged to have committed his crime. He was only scared off when he saw a potential witness coming.
Somehow, though, only one of those men ended up in that photo lineup police put together. After the victim identified him, a jury spent just a little more than four hours convicting Michael McAlister of attempted rape and sending him to prison.
The Insane Twist
Unlike the rest of the people on this list, Michael McAlister was never exonerated. Although Rodney Derr has since been convicted of and tied to several other rapes using DNA evidence, none existed in this case. To make matters worse, as stated earlier, McAlister does have some sexual assault leanings of his own, and the only way he was allowed treatment for those issues in prison was to admit his guilt in the case he was charged with. So, that left him no other choice but to wait out his time. He did that, even though evidence mounted over the years that authorities had arrested the wrong man.
That would have likely been the (still pretty sad) end to the story, if not for a drunk driving arrest.
As always, thanks for everything, booze.
McAlister violated his parole in that very fashion a few years after being released and, after admitting that he had problems with alcohol and exhibitionism and that he'd like to seek treatment for both, the state of Virginia did the only reasonable thing ... they moved to have him locked up indefinitely as a sexually violent predator, based mostly on that attempted rape conviction that almost everyone involved now believes he had nothing to do with.
In other words, he's basically facing a life sentence for DUI. His only hope at this point is to receive a full pardon from the governor of Virginia. Even the arresting officers have signed on to the plea to get his conviction overturned and maybe get Michael McAlister the help he needs as opposed to letting him rot in jail forever. Their words in the petition sent to the governor sum up the absurdity of the situation pretty well:
" believe it is highly improbable that another stocking-mask-wearing, knife-wielding, 6-foot-tall white man with shoulder-length blond hair was terrorizing women at night in the Town & Country apartment complex laundry rooms during that same period in time."
Yeah, I mean, I guess when you put it that way, it does seem kind of unlikely. Here's hoping the governor of Virginia sees it the same way!
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Check out more from Adam in The 5 Worst Things Famous Companies Made To Train Employees and 5 Stories That Will Compel You To Quit Your Day Job.
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