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Terrence Donnelly

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.

- Meghan Barrett Cousino
Most Serious Crime:Forgery or Counterfeiting
Reported Crime Date:1878
Sentence:2.5 years
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of crime:
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation