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Alexander Ripan


Convicted in March of 1920 and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of acquaintance and fellow Romanian immigrant Loas Tipurla in Saginaw County, Michigan, Alexander Ripan was exonerated almost twenty years later as a result of advancements in ballistics technology.
 
Loas Tipurla (also referenced as Luca Tipurla), who lived on a neighboring farm to that of Alexander Ripan, was fatally shot while returning home from retrieving his mail at the local post office on the night of October 25, 1919. According to Tipurla’s wife, Tipurla had left the house that evening at about 7:00 p.m. and had failed to return home. His body was located the following day in a ditch next to some railroad tracks only fifty yards from his home.
 
Tipurla’s wife told police that her husband and Ripan had an altercation a few days prior to the murder. She also informed police that Ripan owned a revolver. Ripan, having heard the news of Tipurla’s murder, arrived at the Tipurla residence while the police were still present. The police immediately began questioning Ripan regarding the altercation and whether Ripan owned a gun. Ripan told the police that he was at home the previous night, having gone to bed early, and that he only got up once during the night at approximately 11:00 p.m. to get a drink of water. He admitted that he owned a .32 caliber revolver and told police that it was locked in a trunk at his home. Although several members of a family who lived with Ripan as lodgers were able to confirm Ripan’s story, the police were suspicious of him and confiscated the trunk containing Ripan’s revolver.
 
Later that night, Riley Crane, the prosecutor, and the local sheriff examined Tipurla’s revolver and a bullet taken from the victim’s body. They contacted a local gunsmith named Henry Krogsman to help them determine whether or not Ripan’s revolver had fired the bullet. Krogsman agreed to help. After examining the revolver and the bullet, Krogsman opened the barrel of the revolver and inserted the bullet.  Krogsman then shook the gun several times and the bullet slid through the chamber and fell into Krogsman’s cupped hand. Krogsman repeated the experiment with another .32 caliber bullet that was not used in the perpetration of the crime, but was unable to get the bullet to go all the way through the chamber without applying significant pressure. Krogsman told the prosecutor and the sheriff that he believed the bullet taken from Tipurla’s body had been fired from Ripan’s revolver, based on the fact that the bullet had fallen right through the barrel of Ripan’s gun. Krogsman agreed to perform the same demonstration at trial.
 
The next morning, Crane announced that Ripan had been taken into custody and was being charged with Tipurla’s murder. Ripan’s murder trial began on March 15, 1920. After 10 days of trial and 6 ½ hours of jury deliberation, Ripan was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at the Michigan State Prison in Jackson.
 
During the next several years, Crane became aware of some advancements in ballistics technology that indicated Ripan’s gun might not have been the gun that fired the fatal bullet. However, on September 9, 1929, before Crane was able to re-open Ripan’s case, Ripan escaped from prison by simply abandoning a tractor he was driving outside the prison walls and walking away.
 
Ripan fled to East Chicago and established a shoe repair shop. He avoided recapture until 1935, when a former fellow prison inmate walked into his shop, recognized him, and apparently tipped off local police. Ripan was arrested the following day and returned to the Michigan State Prison.
 
On December 19, 1936, a report was submitted to Joseph C. Armstrong, Commissioner of Pardons and Paroles, by LeRoy F. Smith, State Police ballistics expert, and John D. Leppert of the Saginaw County Police Department, explaining their theory that, based on certain ballistics tests they had performed, the bullet recovered from the Tipurla’s body could not have come from Ripan’s gun. Recent developments in ballistics technology showed that it was nearly impossible for a bullet fired from a revolver to then be reinserted into the barrel of the same revolver, but such a bullet may pass freely through the barrel of a different revolver of the same caliber.
 
This new ballistics evidence prompted Department of Corrections authorities to reinvestigate Ripan’s case. In late 1938, following that reinvestigation, the Parole Board submitted a recommendation to Governor Frank Murphy that Ripan’s sentence be commuted, entitling Ripan to parole on February 28, 1939.
 
Instead, convinced of Ripan’s innocence by the newly discovered evidence, Circuit Judge James E. O’Neill signed a court order for a new trial, and prosecutor Edward C. MacRae nolle prossed the charges against Ripan and ordered his release.
 
Ripan gained his freedom on January 3, 1939. Shortly after Ripan’s release, he received a letter from Michigan State Representative William G. Buckley informing Ripan that he could not offer him a pension because of the financial plight of the state, but that he could extend offer Ripan a lifetime position with the Michigan state government, if Ripan so desired. For the next several years, Ripan sought compensation of $10,000 to $12,500 from the State of Michigan, but it is unknown whether such efforts were ever successful.
 
– Researched by Ann E. Miller
State:MI
County:Saginaw
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1919
Convicted:1920
Exonerated:1939
Sentence:Life
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:27
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence