On August 28, 1928, Elmer P. Jacobs was arrested for stealing a parked car and taking it on a joy ride. He pleaded guilty to that crime, but, while awaiting sentencing, he was identified in a jailhouse line-up by four taxicab drivers who claimed he had recently held them up, stealing their money and their taxicabs. In the midst of a rash of vehicle robberies around Los Angeles County, these four taxi drivers had been forced to drive to remote locations where they were robbed by a pair of men.
After these drivers implicated Jacobs, he was indicted on four charges of robbery. During the trial, the victims testified that Jacobs was the culprit, and Jacobs tried – though with no success – to establish alibis for the four separate nights on which the crimes occurred. The jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts and Jacobs received a sentence of fifteen years to life for each of the robberies.
Less than two weeks later, however, Jacobs was released from prison. In the time between Jacobs’ trial and his release, four men, Harvey Hossafrasse, Fredell Nicholson, John Shelby Hobbs, and William Schmittroth, had been arrested on various charges. While these men were in jail, two confessed to their involvement in the taxicab robberies. After two of the four were also linked to the robberies by fingerprints, the victims were called in to identify the new suspects. All four victims admitted that these were the men who had committed the crimes and that they had mistakenly accused Jacobs.
In December 1928, police testified in court that they were satisfied that Jacobs was innocent. The court vacated the judgment and sentence, set aside the verdict, and dismissed all charges.
– Researched by Steve Art
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.