On July 22, 1916, downtown San Francisco was the scene of a major parade in honor of Preparedness Day, in anticipation of the United States’ imminent entry into World War I. At the height of the parade, a suitcase containing a bomb was thrown from an upper floor of a building. The bomb detonated, killing ten and wounding 40 onlookers who lined the streets. An incompetent member of the police force took charge of the crime scene. In an attempt to clean up the carnage, he flushed debris down the street drain, destroying much of the physical evidence.
Police arrested several known anarchists and labor organizers for the bombing, including Thomas Mooney and his assistant, Warren Billings. As a result of his impoverished childhood, Billings was sympathetic to the working man and found a trusted advisor in Thomas Mooney, who was a well-known socialist. Both men had reputations as militants and were familiar with the use of dynamite to create bombs.
Held for days without counsel, Mooney and his wife, Rena, Billings, Israel Weinberg, and Ed Nolan were charged with murder. Mooney and Billings retained a well-known San Francisco criminal attorney, Maxwell McNutt, as their defense counsel. Billings was tried first in September 1916, followed by Mooney in January 1917. Both were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Rena Mooney and Israel Weinberg were acquitted and Ed Nolan, who was never brought to trial, was released two months after Mooney’s conviction.
In 1918, a Mediation Commission set up by President Woodrow Wilson, found no evidence of Mooney’s guilt and his death sentence was commuted. That same year, Billings’ sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.
By 1939, the case against Mooney and Billings began to unravel. The two main witnesses in their trials, Frank Oxman and John McDonald, admitted that they had succumbed to pressure by the prosecution and given perjured testimony at trial. On January 7, California Governor Culbert L. Olson, newly inaugurated, pardoned Mooney. In October of that year, he commuted Billings’ sentence and released him, and on December 22, 1961, Governor Edmund G. Brown granted him an official pardon. The perpetrator of the Preparedness Day bombing was never discovered.
- 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.