Around 8:00 p.m. on November 29, 1947 in Kansas City, Missouri, a black man raped an 11-year-old white girl. Police quickly arrested Edward Oscar, a 60-year-old black man who lived near the victim.
At the police station, the victim identified Oscar as the perpetrator, and he was tried for rape in the Circuit Court of Jackson County in 1948. At Oscar’s trial, the victim again identified Oscar as her perpetrator. The other evidence offered against him was the fact that he had been carrying candy and gum in his pockets when he was arrested, which police speculated had been used to lure the victim. In his defense, Oscar and two witnesses testified that he had been working on a farm in Clay County, Missouri, on November 29, 1947 from morning until 9:00 or 10:00 p.m. The prosecutor leaned heavily on racial descriptions when referencing Oscar and the victim during the trial. Oscar was convicted by the jury and sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Oscar appealed the verdict on the basis that the prosecution’s continuous use of racial terminology when describing Oscar and the victim had prejudiced the jury and that the sentence of 99 years was unjustifiably severe. However, on February 13, 1950, the Supreme Court of Missouri ruled that there had been no reversible error.
Kansas Circuit Court Judge Ben Terte subsequently reduced Oscar’s sentence from 99 to 20 years. The reason for this reduction is not specified in the records.
In early 1953, the victim told a nun at her school that she had lied in identifying Edward Oscar as the man who had raped her. She said her twin brother had prompted her to identify Oscar as the attacker. The nun contacted Oscar’s lawyer and the police. The victim submitted to a lie detector test in early March 1953. The victim explained that in the years since the crime, she had “learned to believe in God and [she] wanted to tell the truth for His sake and for the sake of [her] own conscience.”
Less than two weeks later, on March 23, 1953, Oscar was freed from prison after Judge Terte set aside his sentence and dismissed the charges against him.
In May 1953, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a $15,000 appropriation to Oscar to replace the salary he had lost during his wrongful incarceration. It is unknown whether any such appropriation was actually paid to Oscar.
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.