FOR Chester Hollman III, stepping out of prison after 28 years locked up for a crime he didn't commit felt bittersweet – having missed not only his mother's funeral, but also his young nephew's death from cancer.
He's just one of many innocent Americans who have been forced to live decades of their life behind bars, with some convicted for horrific murders and rapes based solely on dodgy bite mark comparisons and unreliable witness statements.
Now, a new Netflix documentary The Innocence Files has uncovered the shocking flaws in America's criminal justice system, following the stories of eight men who were forced to give up their lives over crimes they had nothing to do with.
While two men spent almost 30 years collectively in prison over the rapes and murders of two three-year-old girls, another narrowly avoided the death penalty for a horrific sexual assault and murder.
“I think the best thing that a lawyer can do with their licence is get an innocent guy out of prison,” lawyer Ellen Eggers explains in the show.
Here's a look at the shocking true stories behind each of the eight wrongful conviction cases…
Girls, 3, raped and killed by monster – but 2 innocent men sent down
On September 15, 1990, three-year-old Courtney Smith was abducted from her Mississippi home, while she was sleeping in the same room as her siblings, six and one.
Her body was tragically found two days later in a pond near her home. She had been sexually assaulted and murdered.
Levon Brooks, who was an ex-boyfriend of Smith's mother, became a suspect when one of Smith's siblings identified him as the man they saw abduct their sister.
He was later linked to the murder when possible bite marks were found on Smith's wrist, which a forensic dentist claimed partially matched an impression of two of Brooks' teeth.
He was jailed for life for capital murder and sexual battery in 1992.
However, just four months after Brooks' conviction, another girl, Christine Jackson, was abducted, sexually assaulted and murdered in very similar circumstances – but this time Mississippi man Kennedy Brewer was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.
The Innocence Project first became involved in Brewer's case in 2001, and managed to push for a DNA test which showed semen from the victim’s body excluded Brewer as the perpetrator. His conviction was subsequently overturned.
He spent 13 years behind bars before being released, as he had to wait a gruelling six years for a new trial following the DNA breakthrough.
Justin Albert Johnson later admitted to the murder, and also to the murder that Brooks was convicted of. He did, however, deny biting either victim.
Speaking in the documentary, Johnson goes into harrowing detail about the second attack on Christine, claiming he reached through the window, grabbed her and then carried her away. He even reveals she began crying as he attacked her – blaming "voices in his head" for the assault.
Brewer and Brooks were both freed on February 15, 2008.
Brooks sadly passed away from cancer in 2018 at the age of 58, just a decade after being freed.
Jailed for murder because he was in wrong place at wrong time
While his loved ones gathered to say a final farewell to his beloved mother, Philadelphia man Chester Hollman III was forced to sit in a dingy cell and miss her funeral after being jailed in 1993 for a murder he didn't commit.
In fact, he spent almost 28 years behind bars before the terrible error was finally reversed.
"For 28 years my brother thought, 'who is going to hear me'. It's like the coffin has closed," his sister says in the new docu-series.
Foreign exchange student Tae-Jung Ho was shot dead as he walked home with a friend in 1991, before the suspects fled in a white Chevy Blazer SUV.
Hollman was pulled over shortly after, as he was driving a rented white Chevy Blazer SUV which has a licence plate with the same first three letters as the suspects' vehicle.
According to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, which later fought for his release, there was no sign of a weapon or a change of clothes when he was stopped – despite his clothes not matching the descriptions given to police by witnesses.
A homeless drug addict, Andre Dawkins, later identified him as one of the perpetrators, while Hollman's neighbour Deirdre Jones, who was riding with him at the time, also gave a false statement claiming he was involved – allegedly fearing the implications if she didn't.
On May 4, 1993, the jury convicted him of second degree murder and robbery – despite his continual denials.
Dawkins later recanted his trial testimony in 2001, while Jones recanted hers in 2005, with both claiming they were threatened with jail time by police, and the Innocence Project later picked up Hollman's case.
He was finally released from the Pennsylvania prison in July last year – with the court hearing how police had evidence linking other suspects to the case.
Tragically, Hollman's mother – who worked tirelessly to clear his name – died before his release and he was unable to attend her funeral. Meanwhile, his nephew also passed away from cancer while he was behind bars.
Hollman later told the Inquirer: "I feel like I’m crushed inside… I don’t feel like I’m really me."
Husband beaten to death & wife raped & bitten by 'sailor'
Virginia woman Teresa Perron survived unspeakable hell in 1982 when a man, dressed in a sailor's uniform, broke into her home, murdered her husband and then violently raped her – leaving her covered in bite marks.
But while the real criminal was able to flee the scene, Keith Harward was convicted of the horrific double crime – and it was based largely on the dodgy teeth marks themselves.
After a dentist reviewed the dental records of marines stationed nearby, Harward was initially excluded from the investigation.
However, he later became a suspect when his then-girlfriend claimed he'd bitten her during an argument.
While much of the case relied on dentists' testimonies, a security guard also claimed to have seen Harward with a bloody uniform following the attack. However, according to the Innocence Project, he only made the identification following hypnosis.
Harward was convicted of capital murder but narrowly avoided the death penalty, after the jury spared him from being given the death sentence.
The Innocence Project was finally able to have him released in April 2016, however, when it was discovered that Harward's blood type did not match blood recovered on the evidence.
Further DNA tests excluded him and named Jerry Crotty as the real assailant. Crotty had died in 2006 however, while serving a sentence in jail for abduction, so was never punished over this crime.
Woman blindfolded with underwear and repeatedly raped
Michigan was left shaken in April, 1994 when a man, who had his face covered with a nylon stocking, broke into a woman's home and repeatedly raped her in different rooms of her house.
The woman had her hands handcuffed behind her back during the attack and was blindfolded with her underwear.
The attacker allegedly sexually assaulted her, before cleaning her mouth out with her underwear.
While the victim was unable to get a good glimpse of her attacker, she gave a vague description and helped with a composite sketch to be shown in court.
Kenneth Wyniemko was being held on an unrelated misdemeanour stalking charge at the time, which was later dropped, and was linked to the sketch by police – despite him denying any involvement.
To make matters worse, a police informer, Glen McCormick, then claimed Wyniemko told him he was responsible for the crime while behind bars with him.
Wyniemko was jailed for nine years for criminal sexual conduct, breaking and entering, and armed robbery.
Years later, McCormick recanted his testimony, claiming he made it up to reduce his own jail time.
Wyniemko's conviction was finally dismissed in 2003 after post-conviction DNA testing proved that he was innocent.
Abandoned on death row for cop and store clerk's bloody murders
Alfred Dewayne Brown couldn't contain his happiness when his tearful family leapt up to hug him as he was finally freed from jail in 2015 – after spending 10 years on Texas' death row over the bloody murder of a cop and a store clerk.
Houston police officer Charles R. Clark and store clerk Alfredia Jones were killed in 2003 in a botched armed robbery.
Police arrested Brown the day after the murders, along with two other men – one of whom later pleaded guilty and testified against Brown, claiming it was he that shot the police officer.
Brown always insisted he was with his girlfriend at the time, who initially backed up his pleas.
He claimed to have used her home phone to make a call around the time – which would have backed up his alibi – but the prosecution never turned the phone records over to the defence in the trial.
His girlfriend later testified against Brown, leading to him being sentenced to death in 2005. However, she admitted her statement was false in 2011 and claimed she’d lied because she felt threatened by the prosecutor.
After the phone records were discovered, Brown was finally freed in 2015.
"When I got out of jail I took my shoes off and just walked around the yard… 12 years I haven't touched the ground," he says in the documentary.
Serial rapist flees as wrong man jailed for horror attacks
In the winter of 1984, Virginia was gripped by a string of harrowing rapes and attempted sexual assaults as five women were targeted by a serial monster.
But while Thomas Haynesworth wasn't connected to any of them, in any way, he ended up going down for 27 years.
The crimes included Janet Burke, 20 at the time, being raped at knifepoint near a day care centre, while four more women were also victims of rapes or attempted rapes within a one-mile radius of the first attack by a man fitting the same description over the following month.
Haynesworth, who was aged 18 at the time, was linked to the crime when one victim spotted him in the street and identified him. The other victims also identified him later, when shown his photo.
He was convicted of two of the rapes and one attempted robbery and abduction, despite some of the victims' descriptions of their attacker's height not matching Haynesworth's.
The rapes continued after his conviction, however, before a man called Leon Davis – a neighbour of Haynesworth's – was arrested in December 1984, and the attacks stopped.
However, Haynesworth's convictions were not linked to Davis at the time.
According to the Innocence Project, it was only discovered in 2009 that the semen recovered from the victim of Haynesworth’s January 3 rape conviction matched Davis.
On March 21, 2011, he was granted parole and was released from prison after serving 27 years.
Framed by SIX dodgy witnesses over drive-by shooting
Franky Carrillo was spending a quiet night in with his father in 1991 when Donald Sarpy was killed in a drive-by shooting murder in California.
However, despite not even being outside when it happened, he ended up going down for it after six witnesses all identified him, Sky News reports.
They later admitted to not having a good view of the shooter, and instead claimed they had been influenced by police officers, and each other, to identify Carrillo from a series of photos.
His conviction was finally reversed by the LA County Superior Court on March 14, 2011, after he had served 20 years in prison – with two other men since confessing to the crime.
Sadly, Carrillo's father passed away years before he was released from jail, having spent years trying to clear his son's name, so was unable to see him a free man.
New nine-part Netflix docu-series The Innocence Files is available to stream from April 15.
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