On December 8, 1905, Charles Wyatt, a whiskey dealer located in New Jersey, reported to police that two men had made a purchase from him using counterfeit money. Shortly after this report was made, Frank Manfra was arrested on counterfeiting charges. Manfra had counterfeit bills in his possession when arrested and quickly confessed to the fraudulent purchase from Wyatt, identifying Luigi Zambino as his accomplice in his counterfeiting scheme.
Zambino lived in Lawrence, Massachusetts, where he worked as a mill hand to support his family. He had no criminal record. While Zambino admitted having known Manfra in the past, he denied any involvement in a counterfeiting scheme and insisted he was not in New Jersey at the time of the crime. However, Wyatt identified both Manfra and Zambino as the two men who had committed the crime, and both men were indicted.
Zambino’s trial began on July 11, 1906, and Manfra, who had already been convicted, served as a witness for the prosecution. In addition to Wyatt identifying Zambino in court as one of the perpetrators, two additional witnesses testified that Zambino had passed counterfeit money to them in 1905 as well. One of these two witnesses appeared to have picked Zambino’s photo out of a photo lineup prior to identifying him in person.
In his defense, Zambino insisted that he had been at work in Massachusetts at the time of the crime and denied any knowledge of, or involvement in, Manfra’s counterfeiting scheme. He called three witnesses to confirm his whereabouts on the day of the crime, two of whom were his relatives. The jury quickly returned a guilty verdict. On July 16, 1906, Zambino was sentenced to six years hard labor in the New Jersey State Prison and a $500 fine. Later that year, he was transferred to a federal prison in Georgia.
After Zambino’s conviction, J. C. Sanborn, an attorney in Lawrence who was familiar with Zambino’s now destitute family, began looking into the case. Sanborn found that the records of Zambino’s employer, Pemberton Mills, showed that he had worked a full day every day during the week of the crime. The timekeeper at Pemberton Mills and Zambino’s direct supervisor also confirmed that he was there. However, neither had traveled to New Jersey for Zambino’s trial, despite the timekeeper having been subpoenaed.
Based on these newly obtained records from Pemberton Mills, Sanborn prepared a petition for a pardon. The petition was signed by many citizens of Lawrence, who described Zambino as hardworking and honest. It was also discovered that Manfra had a brother who bore a strong resemblance to Zambino. While Zambino was in prison, Manfra was released and soon after arrested again for passing the same fraudulent coins that he had previously claimed came from Zambino.
In light of these circumstances, the Attorney General ordered an investigation into this matter and, although the findings were confidential, he recommended a pardon for Zambino at the conclusion of the investigation. On this recommendation, Zambino was granted a full and unconditional pardon from President Taft on November 24, 1909.
- 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.