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John H. Chance

Sentenced to life in prison on September 11, 1899, for the second-degree murder and armed robbery of a clerk in a Boston, Massachusetts, drug store, John Chance was pardoned nearly 12 years later by the Governor of Massachusetts based on the confession of his codefendant.
Charles Russell was shot to death during an armed robbery committed at approximately 8:30 p.m. on April 4, 1898, at the drug store where he was working. The perpetrator was believed to be a man about 30 years old, wearing a coat. He ordered Russell to put his hands up, shot him several times in the back, and then fled empty-handed. The shots attracted several eyewitnesses, who claimed to have seen the bandit fleeing from the scene.
On April 20, 1898, a witness turned in a coat that was found in the basement of his residence, not far from the scene of the crime. The coat met the description given by the eyewitnesses, and that same afternoon Chance was identified as the owner of the coat. Chance acknowledged that the coat was his, but claimed that he did not know how the coat got into the basement. He informed the police that he had lent the coat to a friend, Arthur Hagan. Hagan, however, could not be found. Chance was immediately arrested because he fit the description of the perpetrator and he admitted that he owned the coat. Hagan was eventually located in Chicago and brought back to Boston under indictment for murder in the second degree.
Both Chance and Hagan were brought to trial on February 8, 1899, based on the prosecution’s theory that one of the men was the killer and the other an accessory. Hagan offered an extensive alibi which included a convincing tale that a mutual friend of his, who also knew Chance, Liz Nagle, confided in him while drunk that Chance was the killer. She based her belief on the fact that she had seen Chance with a revolver two days before the murder took place. One eyewitness, a policeman, positively identified Chance. The policeman had been waiting for a train when the perpetrator ran through the train station as he fled from the crime scene.
In contrast, Chance hurt his defense by providing three conflicting alibis following his arrest. In addition, he offered an alternative theory at trial, alleging that the perpetrator was a person by the name of O’Brien. Chance alleged that O’Brien’s wife had exhibited two bullets during a quarrel with her husband and shouted, “The third one killed Russell!” Another witness mentioned that O’Brien had worn a coat like the one reportedly worn by the perpetrator. This evidence, however, was thrown out during trial as hearsay. Chance was impeached by prior inconsistent statements, but then offered his strongest argument. He stated that he was physically handicapped and not able to run from the store after the robbery as suggested by witnesses. This, however, did not convince the jury and the jury convicted him, while acquitting Hagan. Chance’s inconsistent stories, his shady and uncooperative reputation, and his admission of ownership of the coat led the jury to believe that he was guilty. He received a sentence of life in prison, which he unsuccessfully appealed.
During the court proceedings, Chance raised 37 requests for exceptions concerning his murder conviction, including exceptions to the public posting of the jury list, the refusal to grant his request for a jury viewing of the crime scene, inconsistencies in the prosecution’s examination of alibi witnesses, the admission of the inconsistent stories he had given police, certain witness testimony, and a jury instruction on the definition of murder. The court overruled Chance’s exceptions.
In 1905, Chance notified Governor William Douglas, repeating his defense that Hagan, then living in Chicago, had voluntarily confessed to committing the murder by himself. Chance also told Governor Douglas that Hagan’s defense lawyer knew the truth about the case. Six years later, Governor Eugene Foss finally responded to Chance’s repeated requests for reinvestigation and, after receiving immunity from re-prosecution, Hagan admitted that he alone was responsible for the robbery-murder, and that Chance had no involvement. Further investigation corroborated Hagan’s confession. Statements supporting Chance’s innocence were submitted by both Hagan’s lawyer and the trial judge.
On June 7, 1911, Governor Foss pardoned Chance, now 44 years old, after he had served nearly 12 years in prison. Chance was immediately released from prison. A bill awarding Chance $10,000 for his wrongful conviction failed to pass in the legislature.
- Daniel Kim
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Reported Crime Date:1898
Race/Ethnicity:Don't Know
Age at the date of crime:31
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation