On August 6, 1936, 188 wigs were stolen from the Samuel Bonat & Bros. store in Manhattan, New York. The stolen wigs were then offered to a wig dealer for $15 each by Michael Lazar. Police arrested Lazar, who implicated David Feinberg, a druggist in Queens, New York, in the wig theft and resale scheme. Lazar claimed Feinberg sold the wigs to him, and he provided police with a bill of sale for the wigs, purportedly signed by Feinberg.
Feinberg, who was 48 years old, had a criminal record. After his arrest, Feinberg provided information to the U.S. Secret Service to aid in its investigation of counterfeit Pennsylvania cigarette tax stamps, but he said he was not involved in Lazar’s wig theft and resale scheme.
Feinberg was charged with criminally receiving stolen property. He was tried before a jury in December 1936 in the Court of General Sessions of New York County, with Judge Jonah J. Goldstein presiding. Lazar’s testimony provided the substance of the state’s case, and the evidence also included the bill of sale with Feinberg’s signature.
Feinberg was convicted of criminally receiving stolen property on December 7, 1936. At his sentencing hearing the next day, Feinberg spoke for half an hour maintaining his innocence. Judge Goldstein sentenced Feinberg to 20 to 40 years in prison, to be served at Sing Sing Correctional Facility. (Some records indicate the sentence was 10 to 20 years, rather than 20 to 40). Goldstein referenced Feinberg’s past criminal activities as the reason for the long sentence.
After Feinberg’s conviction, William H. Houghton, the chief of the New York office of the Secret Service, wrote to Goldstein, saying, “Feinberg has been of great assistance to the service, and we are of the opinion that he can still render valuable aid to our organization.” Houghton’s support notwithstanding, Feinberg remained in prison.
While in prison, Feinberg spoke with prison chaplain Rabbi Jacob Katz and told Katz that he was innocent. Together with Feinberg’s attorney, Henry A. Drescher, Katz sought the assistance of multiple handwriting experts, who concluded that the bill of sale for the wigs had been written and signed by Lazar, not Feinberg.
Feinberg was paroled in September 1943 on the basis of good behavior.
On May 2, 1944, after reviewing the new handwriting evidence, Judge Goldstein declared Feinberg innocent, reversing his conviction and dismissing the indictment against him. A decision a year earlier by the New York Appellate Division decision had empowered New York judges to set aside a conviction if they were convinced that deceitful and fraudulent testimony had been used against the defendant.
In 1945, the New York State Legislature passed a bill to compensate Feinberg for his wrongful conviction, but Governor Thomas E. Dewey vetoed the bill.
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.