On August 21, 1938, five black men robbed a tavern in Chicago, Illinois. Patrick O’Malley, a 31-year-old off-duty police officer, tried to stop the robbery and was shot and killed during an exchange of gunfire. One of the robbers, Trussie Townsend, was also killed during the shootout. Another robber, George Hamer, was shot and injured during the exchange of gunfire. The other three bandits escaped.
George Hamer was quickly apprehended. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 199 years in prison. In addition to Trussie Townsend, Hamer’s accomplices were identified as Lucius Webb, Howard Poe, and Henry Napue.
Howard Poe was arrested in Cleveland in September 1939 and reportedly confessed to the crime. He was convicted and sentenced to death. On April 19, 1940, Poe was executed by the State of Illinois. 24-year-old Lucius Webb was eventually arrested. In December 1941, he, too, was convicted of murder and was sentenced to 199 years in prison. Webb was paroled in 1961.
Henry Napue was indicted in June 1940, but maintained his innocence. The prosecution relied on the testimony of George Hamer to prove Napue’s involvement in the shooting of O’Malley. During the trial, on cross-examination, Hamer was asked if he was receiving any kind of reward in exchange for his testimony against Napue. Hamer replied that he had not been promised a reduction in his sentence or anything else, and was testifying of his own free will. Napue was convicted of murder by a jury in August 1940, and sentenced to 199 years in prison in the Illinois State Penitentiary.
Following Napue’s conviction, the defense learned that Hamer had testified against Napue in exchange for a deal with the prosecutor, but Hamer had falsely testified to the contrary at Napue’s trial.
On the basis of the newly discovered information that Napue’s conviction relied on the knowing use of false testimony, his attorneys filed a post-conviction petition for his release. The trial court denied this request, and the denial was affirmed by the Illinois Supreme Court. On a writ of certiorari, the U.S. Supreme Court reversed this decision on June 15, 1959, holding that the knowing use of false testimony by the prosecution violated Napue’s constitutional due process rights.
In March 1960, the charges against Napue were dismissed, and he was released from prison on March 7, 1960 after almost twenty years of incarceration. He sought compensation under Illinois law for his twenty years of unjust imprisonment. However, the Illinois Court of Claims denied his request, finding that he had not proven by a preponderance of the evidence that he was not responsible for the murder of Patrick O’Malley.
- 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.