Robert J. Enzensperger, Jr., an eighth-grade teacher from Sunnyvale, California, flew from San Francisco, California, to Las Vegas, Nevada, on November 25, 1955. Enzensperger checked his suitcase, but the bag was mistakenly placed on a different flight to Burbank, and Enzensperger was unable to retrieve it from the Las Vegas airport until the following day. When Enzensperger did so, he was arrested at the airport on a narcotics charge. Las Vegas police officers had located a half pound of marijuana in the suitcase, and Enzensperger, who was 29 years old, was charged with possession of narcotics.
Enzensperger’s jury trial began on February 5, 1956 in the Eighth Judicial District Court of Clark County, with Judge Ryland G. Taylor presiding. Assistant District Attorney Robert Gifford prosecuted the case. Herman Fisher, Jr. represented Enzensperger. Enzensperger testified that he believed the marijuana had been planted in his luggage while it was out of his possession. He testified that much of his clothing was also missing from the suitcase when he retrieved it. The jury convicted Enzensperger of possession of narcotics on February 10, 1956. Taylor sentenced Enzensperger to two to 10 years in prison.
Just days after Enzensperger’s sentencing, Colonel George White, district chief of the Federal Narcotics Bureau, a predecessor agency of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that new evidence had been obtained supporting Enzensperger’s claims of innocence. A flight manifest showed that Enzensperger’s suitcase weighed 20 pounds when he checked it with the airline, but it weighed only nine pounds when it was opened by police in Las Vegas. “From the time he checked it, when it weighed 20 pounds, to the time police opened it in Las Vegas, when it weighed nine pounds, he couldn’t have had access to it,” White said. “The manifest shows this and almost conclusively proves he couldn’t have put the marijuana in the suitcase.” Believing Enzensperger was innocent, prominent San Francisco defense attorney Jake Ehrlich joined Fisher in representing Enzensperger pro bono.
On May 9, 1956, the Nevada Board of Paroles and Pardons met and determined that the new evidence strongly suggested Enzensperger’s suitcase had been tampered with while out of his possession. At the board’s recommendation, Governor Charles Russell granted a full pardon to Enzensperger that day.
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.