On a spring evening in 1921 in St. Louis, Missouri, Edward L. Hicks was allegedly caught in possession of a package of stolen shirts by Railroad Detective Fitzgerald. According to Detective Fitzgerald, that evening as he was making his rounds, he had come across the stolen shirts, tucked away on a parked freight car. Fitzgerald reported that soon after discovering the stolen shirts, he saw Hicks walk up and remove the hidden shirts.
Hicks, a railway employee, was arrested for possession of stolen goods on this basis. Because the shirts were stolen from an interstate train, the charges against him were federal. His trial was held in May 1921 in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Hicks testified that he knew nothing about the stolen goods, but that he had argued with Fitzgerald in the past and that Fitzgerald had then threatened that he would “get” Hicks. Fitzgerald’s testimony was the only evidence presented against Hicks. The jury believed Fitzgerald and found Hicks guilty. He was sentenced to two years in the Leavenworth Penitentiary.
After Hicks’ conviction, Fitzgerald boasted to attorney Wayne Ely that he had framed Hicks. Ely then contacted the Department of Justice to report Fitzgerald’s statement. The Department of Justice then undertook an investigation of this matter and became convinced of Hicks’s innocence. The trial judge and U.S. Attorney stated that they believed him to be innocent as well. On August 11, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge granted Hicks a full and unconditional pardon on the basis of innocence.
- 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.