All NRE reports represent a moment in time. For the most accurate data, please search on the Detailed View page. The website is updated daily, frequently with exonerations that occurred in the past.
On May 20, 1878, police arrested Terrence O’Neil Donnelly on a charge of forgery. Donnelly, a Brooklyn, New York, real estate developer, claimed he knew nothing about the alleged forgery.
Unable to pay his $15,000 bail, Donnelly remained in jail until his trial in June 1878. At Donnelly’s trial, two young men testified that Donnelly was their accomplice in the forgery scheme. He was convicted of third-degree forgery on June 15, 1878 and sentenced to two and a half years at the state prison in Sing Sing.
Not long after Donnelly’s conviction, the two witnesses recanted their trial testimony, saying that they had committed the forgery alone and Donnelly had not been involved. The men produced the money they had gained from the forgery and convinced New York Governor Lucius Robinson that Donnelly was innocent.
On October 26, 1878, Robinson pardoned Donnelly on the basis of innocence.
Donnelly’s months in prison took a substantial toll on his wife, five children, and business. In that time, the family lost its home and much of its savings. Donnelly sought damages for his false imprisonment from the New York Legislature. On May 22, 1879, the New York Board of Audit awarded Donnelly $8,000 in compensation. Robinson signed a bill authorizing payment on May 28, 1879.
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.