Folsom's 93

The Lives and Crimes of Folsom Prison's Executed Men


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You’ve Just Been Exonerated . . . Now What Are You Going To Do?

Two men leave a prison. One’s been released on parole, the other was exonerated. One has a $100 debit card, a job lined up, and a room at a halfway house. The other man has empty pockets, is unemployed, and hopefully some friends or family to give him a place to sleep.

As you might have guessed, the parolee has the money, the job, and the place to sleep. I suppose for the man exonerated, his freedom and a cleared record is all he can ask for, but what if that’s all he has? I came across this article regarding compensating those exonerated. Unless it was proven that misconduct occurred during trial, the accused cannot sue or receive damages from their wrongful incarceration—at least not in twenty-three states. The article focused on Robert Dewey, released from a Grand Junction, Colo., prison after serving 17 years for murder. “All I got was an apology.” Dewey has little family to rely on and is struggling to survive on food stamps. What’s more, he cannot work due to a back injury he sustained in prison. He also couldn’t receive job training in prison because of his life-without-parole sentence.

“I couldn’t take computer classes or anything else to better myself. Life without parole meant my ‘out date’ was 1,000 years in the future. They weren’t going to teach me skills I could use on the outside.”

–Robert Dewey

The Innocence Project, other advocacy groups, and prosecutors across the country, are pushing for compensation laws, as well as funds for job-training, counseling, affordable housing, and health services. For more on Robert Dewey and the other 292 exonerated individuals, visit The Innocence Project.


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So you say you’re innocent, huh?

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I’m often asked if I believe any of Folsom’s 93 were innocent. “Absolutely,” I usually reply, but can I prove it? Possibly, but when we’re talking about crimes from well over a hundred years ago, original evidence is long gone. Early investigation methods didn’t include the use of crime scene tape, latex gloves, or handy Ziploc bags to preserve and protect evidence. And DNA? Forgetaboutit! That technology came in the mid-1970s. Universal fingerprinting didn’t come along until the 1940s and before that, correctly identifying suspects by their prints oftentimes proved to be unreliable and inaccurate. At the turn of the 20th century, “beyond a reasonable doubt” didn’t exist and a few of the 93 hung by the threads of circumstantial evidence.

Little could separate the guilty from the innocent: a strand of hair resembling the victim found on or near the suspect, association with known criminals, or the color of your skin . . .

Not surprising, many of Folsom’s condemned minorities were doomed the moment of arrest; referred to in the newspapers as the N-word, half-breeds, or ignorant. Even their court-appointed attorney didn’t always have their client’s best interests at hand, or they themselves experienced backlash over representing a minority. The language barrier provided another opportunity for the law to take advantage of a foreign-born suspect, especially since interpreters were few and far between. Investigators easily manipulated an interrogation or testimony by using words the accused couldn’t comprehend.

Judges also didn’t sequester juries to the extent they do today, nor were the juries protected from “tampering.” After the selection of the 12 peers, newspapermen often printed the full names of the jurors in the next day’s issue. Jurors were even often caught dozing off, or snoring away during the trial. Did the judge reprimand the sleepy juror? No.

For some, the appeals process didn’t offer much hope either. Defense attorneys often bowed out after a jury found their court-appointed client guilty. The condemned man had only the hope that the governor would heed his plea for clemency or pardon.

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Throughout the course of my research, I struggled to see how some of these men could be found guilty. I think it’s ignorant to assume they each received a fair trial and due process of the law. Today, technology has aided investigators when solving crimes and in many cases, free the wrongfully convicted.

 The Innocence Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to proving the innocence of those convicted of a crime they didn’t commit. Since its start in 1992, the organization has exonerated 268 people, including 17 who sat on death row. Despite the advances in crime investigation, it’s apparent these methods can’t always stop innocent people from going to prison and for some of Folsom’s 93, this potentially life-saving technology came too late.