On the afternoon of October 22, 1949, 56-year-old Rosina Fazio, a tavern keeper in Charleston, West Virginia, was picked up by a motorist in a car. According to a witness who knew Fazio, this occurred at approximately 3:30 p.m. The same woman would later identify the driver of the car, whom she saw only briefly, as Robert Bailey. A motorist who was driving behind the car carrying Fazio reported having seen a woman’s legs hanging out of the car’s passenger-side window. Shortly after this sighting, Fazio was either pushed or fell out of the car. This motorist stopped to render assistance to Fazio. As he was doing so, another driver stopped and agreed to take Fazio to a hospital. When this car pulled away with Fazio inside, the motorist realized that it was the same car from which Fazio had originally fallen, and he would later identify the driver as Robert Bailey. Fazio was never driven to the hospital by the person who picked her up. Instead, she was found hours later, lying by the side of a street in Charleston with a broken neck.
When she finally made it to a hospital, Fazio, who had been robbed of cash and diamond jewelry, lived long enough to tell family members that the man who had caused her injuries was “Bob the glass cutter.” Robert Bailey did, in fact, work as a glass cutter.
According to Charleston Police, at the exact time that Fazio was originally picked up, Bailey was being chased by police vehicles for driving drunk. Both the police and witnesses who knew Bailey well corroborated the time of the car chase. His identity was further confirmed by the bullets that had been fired by the police and had perforated the back of his car. Despite his condition, Bailey managed to evade the police and drive home. He awoke with a hazy recollection of the police chase, which he remembered when he saw the bullet holes in the back of his car. Bailey, who had previously been convicted of auto theft and armed robbery, was concerned that he would be shown little leniency at trial. Therefore, he collected his wife and child and left for Florida, hoping that the incident with the police would be resolved. However, unbeknownst to him, he was implicated in Fazio’s murder, tracked down in Florida, and arrested.
On June 16, 1950, Bailey was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder. On July 8, he was sentenced to be the first prisoner executed by electrocution in West Virginia, at the West Virginia Penitentiary at Moundsville. Soon after, presiding Judge Jackson Savage, having reservations about the jury’s decision, wrote to Governor Okey L. Patteson, expressing his concerns and recommending executive clemency for Bailey. “I do not believe the State of West Virginia should take the life of any man when there is a question, however slight, of his guilt or innocence,” Savage wrote. Patteson did not act and the West Virginia Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court denied Bailey’s appeals.
On death row Bailey was more fortunate than he had been in the courts. Warden Orel J. Skeen took an interest in the case and concluded that Bailey was innocent. He subsequently contacted Tom Smith, an acquaintance who had previously worked as a warden at the Washington State Penitentiary and who currently worked with the Court of Last Resort, a group dedicated to exposing cases of wrongful conviction. The group, best known for including the famous author Erle Stanley Gardner, arranged a polygraph test, which Bailey passed. Gardner interviewed the trial judge and learned of his misgivings about the case, reviewed the case files, and met with Governor Patteson, who issued a reprieve and asked for further investigations.
Upon review, the West Virginia Department of Probation and Parole concluded that Bailey was indeed innocent and recommended that he be pardoned. In 1951, Governor Patteson commuted the sentence to life in prison. In 1960, Governor Cecil H. Underwood granted Bailey a conditional pardon, and six years later, Governor Hulett C. Smith dropped the conditions.
- Ariel Milian and Dolores Kennedy
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.