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Based on perjured testimony, John Loftus was convicted in 1886 of a strong-arm robbery that had occurred fourteen months earlier in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was pardoned in 1888 by Governor Oliver Ames after a principal prosecution witness recanted and the victim, William Darby, provided an affidavit saying he was “entirely satisfied that other parties, and not Loftus, committed the crime.”
At about 8:00 p.m. on November l0, 1884, a highly inebriated William Darby left Charlie Bruise’s Saloon with Marcus Bracken and John Ansbury. Darby returned to the saloon three hours later, bleeding from the head, saying he had been robbed of about $17 but remembering nothing about what happened.
The next day, a bootblack employed at a nearby hotel claimed to have seen Bracken and nineteen-year-old John Loftus beat and rob Darby. Loftus was arrested and charged with highway robbery, but Bracken could not be found. When Ansbury, who had spent most of the previous day with Bracken, was questioned, he claimed that after he, Bracken, and Darby left the saloon, they met a man who seemed to be a friend of Darby’s and who agreed to care for him. Ansbury said he and Bracken then returned to the saloon and did not see Darby again until Darby returned to the saloon bleeding and bruised. Ansbury said he did not know, and could not identify, Darby’s purported friend.
In January 1886, Loftus, who had been in custody since his arrest, was tried before a jury in the Superior Court of Berkshire County. The main prosecution witnesses were the bootblack and Ansbury. Although Ansbury did not identify Loftus, his testimony corroborated that of the bootblack. Darby testified that he had been assaulted and robbed, but did not identify Loftus, who presented an alibi defense. A witness called on his behalf placed Loftus in the town of Sheffield, six miles south of Great Barrington, at the time of the crime. Nonetheless, the jury, believing the bootblack and discounting the alibi, found Loftus guilty. On January 27, he was sentenced to five years in prison.
Eleven months later, Frank M. Wright, justice of the peace in Great Barrington, informed Loftus’ lawyer, J. F. Cronan, that a conscience-stricken Ansbury had come to his home the previous week saying he had falsely implicated Loftus in the crime. When Wright warned Ansbury that he could be prosecuted for perjury, Ansbury left. Three days later, he returned, telling Wright that, even if it meant going to jail, he wanted to tell the truth. He proceeded to confess that he and Bracken had committed the crime, and that Loftus was not involved.
On January 4, 1888, in response to a petition for clemency supported by Darby’s affidavit, Loftus was granted a full pardon by Massachusetts Governor Oliver Ames. The next day, Loftus was released from prison after 1,150 days behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Ansbury served thirty days in jail for perjury. Bracken, who had fled the jurisdiction, was never charged.
– Researched by Rob Warden
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.