In the fall of 1945, two men beat and robbed a 70-year-old woman in Manhattan, New York. The victim identified Eddie Lee Wilbur as one of the robbers. Wilbur then named Thomas Oliver as his accomplice. On October 23, 1945, police arrested 18-year-old Oliver, who had a criminal record. The victim then identified Oliver as the second robber, and he was charged with armed robbery.
Oliver’s case went to trial in February 1946 in the Court of General Sessions of New York County, with Judge Owen W. Bohan presiding. Available records do not indicate whether Oliver’s trial was a bench trial or before a jury. Oliver was convicted of first-degree robbery on February 26, 1946, and sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison.
After Oliver’s conviction, Wilbur told authorities that Oliver had not been his accomplice. He said a different man, whom he knew only as “Jay,” was the second robber. Though he did not know Jay’s last name, Wilbur gave police the names of bars where Jay typically spent time.
When interviewed again after Wilbur made this statement, the victim said she was not certain Oliver had been Wilbur’s accomplice. She said she believed she may have identified Oliver because she had frequently seen him and Wilbur together in their neighborhood and associated them with one another.
The police found “Jay” and brought him to the district attorney for questioning in December 1946. Jay confessed to assisting Wilbur with the crime. He pled guilty to robbery and was sentenced to five to 10 years in prison. Available records do not provide Jay's full name.
In March 1947, Oliver’s conviction was set aside and the charge against him was dismissed.
On April 12, 1947, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey signed a bill, introduced by Senator Kenneth Sherbell and Assemblyman Samuel Kaplan, permitting Oliver to seek compensation from the state for his erroneous conviction and imprisonment. The state awarded Oliver $7,200 in December 1948.
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.