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Nineteen-year-old Harry Cashin was convicted of killing a policeman during an attempted robbery at a speakeasy in New York City in 1931 and sentenced to death. He was exonerated in 1933 when the witness who had identified him as the shooter recanted her testimony.
On February 19, 1931, at about 8:00 p.m., two men entered a speakeasy in New York City. At the time, five persons were in the club, the bartender and four patrons, who were playing cards. The men pulled guns and told those in the room to raise their hands. While the robbers were taking personal property from the patrons, another woman entered the speakeasy and was forced to cooperate with the robbers. Almost immediately, two detectives, Christopher Scheuing and Dominic Pape, entered the barroom. When they saw that a robbery was taking place, Detective Pape pulled his gun and started shooting. Detective Scheuing attempted the same, but was shot and killed by one of the robbers. During the exchange of gunfire, one of the robbers, Albert Checchia, was also killed. The second robber escaped. Because Harry Cashin had worked for Checchia as a truck driver, he immediately became a suspect.
Between 11:00 p.m. and midnight, two detectives went to Cashin’s home and waited until he arrived in a taxi. He was taken to the police station for questioning. The customers from the speakeasy were also at the station and none identified Cashin as the robber who escaped.
Approximately two weeks later, Cashin was again summoned to the police station for questioning. He was asked whether or not he knew who had been with Albert Checchia on the night of the crime. He said he did not and was again permitted to go. On April 6, Cashin was informed by his mother that Detective Pape and the district attorney wanted to see him the next morning at 10:00 a.m. When he arrived at the station, he was placed under arrest.
Gladys Clayton, one of the patrons at the speakeasy, initially indicated that she could not identify the robber who was with Checchia. Seven weeks later, at trial, Clayton stated that Cashin was the man who escaped.
Cashin claimed that he was with his girlfriend, Rose O’Donnell, at the time of the crime. This alibi was corroborated by Rose Grady, O’Donnell’s aunt, who lived with her. A taxi driver, Norman Feingold, also testified that Cashin could not have been the perpetrator. Feingold claimed that he drove the two robbers to the speakeasy and that Cashin was not one of his customers.
There were numerous character witnesses at Cashin’s trial who testified that he was known in his community as a peaceful, law-abiding citizen. In addition, the physical description of the robber given by other witnesses did not resemble Cashin. Detective Pape testified that he had shot the escaped robber and there was no evidence that Cashin was wounded.
Despite the fact that the only evidence of his guilt was the questionable testimony of Gladys Clayton, on December 10, 1931, Cashin was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.
In 1932, the New York Court of Appeals ordered a new trial because “the verdict [was] against the weight of the evidence.” Cashin was released on $5,000 bail after spending seven months on death row. In 1933, charges were dropped when Gladys Clayton admitted that she had testified falsely at Cashin’s trial.
Cashin eventually married Rose O’Donnell and had three children. He died at the age of 51. There is no record that the second robber was ever apprehended.
- Kent McMillan and Dolores Kennedy
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.