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Johnnie Lee Shaw


In October 1960, 23-year-old Johnnie Lee Shaw was arrested for failing to pay a traffic ticket. While he was in the elevator at the police station in Detroit, Michigan, a police officer spotted him and thought he fit the description of the perpetrator in the July 1960 robbery of a cleaning store in Detroit. The cleaning store had been held up by a young black man who escaped with $15. Shaw wore a similar coat to the bandit, and a subsequent search of Shaw’s home turned up a pistol hidden under his mattress. Upon viewing Shaw in a lineup, the clerk at the cleaning store identified Shaw as the culprit.
 
Shaw was tried and convicted of this crime in December 1960. Judge John P. O’Hara sentenced him to five to fifteen years in Jackson Prison on December 28, 1960.
 
In March 1961, Detroit detectives arrested 23-year-old Eddie Harris in connection with a series of robberies. Harris confessed to 63 robberies, including the 1960 cleaning store robbery for which Shaw was serving time. Upon viewing Harris, who resembled Shaw, the cleaning store clerk admitted Harris looked a great deal like the man who had robbed her, but remained unconvinced that Shaw had not committed the crime. However, Harris identified this woman in a reverse lineup, stating that she was the clerk whom he had robbed at the cleaning store the previous July. Harris also identified two accomplices who had assisted him in some of the robberies, and the accomplices confessed to the crimes as well. Harris and the accomplices all pled guilty to armed robbery.
 
On June 9, 1961, Judge O’Hara granted Shaw’s motion for a new trial, though he stated that he was not convinced of Shaw’s innocence. Nonetheless, by the time the trial was set to begin on June 21, 1961, Assistant Prosecutor Max Silverman joined Shaw’s attorney in a motion to dismiss the charges against Shaw, and Judge O’Hara granted the motion. Shaw was freed later that same day.
 
In late 1961, Michigan State Representative Edward H. Jeffries proposed that the Michigan legislature reimburse Shaw with $10 a day for the 175 days Shaw had spent working in prison. However, the outcome of this proposed legislation is unknown.
 
– Meghan Barrett Cousino
State:MI
County:Wayne
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1960
Convicted:1960
Exonerated:1961
Sentence:5 to 15 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:23
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID