Convicted of murder in Wabash County, Illinois, and sentenced to life in prison in 1888, John Cochran was pardoned when evidence came to light two years later indicating that the purported victim, John Buchenberger, had, in fact, committed suicide.
On October 11, 1888, Buchenberger, a Civil War veteran from Evansville, Indiana, traveled on business to Mount Carmel, Illinois, where he met with Cochran. On his fourth day in Mount Carmel, Buchenberger bought a revolver. The day after that, he was found unconscious in a shed, shot once in the head. His revolver, with one empty cartridge chamber, was found nearby. Buchenberger lingered three more days without regaining consciousness before dying on October 19.
Cochran was tried the following month before a Wabash County Circuit Court jury. The prosecution rested primarily on the testimony of a horse thief named Charles Reese, who claimed that Cochran had admitted to the murder. Cochran’s attorney argued that Buchenberger’s death appeared to be suicide, and that Reese was lying in the expectation of leniency for himself. Cochran took the stand, denying that he had anything to do with Buchenberger’s death. The jury, however, believed Reese and found Cochran guilty. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Sixteen months later, Buchenberger’s wife produced a letter which she said she had received from her husband on October 20, 1888, the day after his death. The letter said that he “was about to part from the world of mortals to dwell with his heavenly father.” After reviewing the case, Illinois Governor Joseph W. Fifer pardoned Cochran based on innocence on August 6, 1890, and he was released from prison. It remained questionable why the letter had not been communicated to Cochran’s defense counsel while Cochran suffered two years of incarceration.
- Rob Warden
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.