Three unsafe convictions saw a man and two mothers jailed for years...for terrible crimes they didn't commit.
USA: Gary Dotson
It was 1979 when Gary Dotson, then 22, was sentenced to 25-50 years for aggravated kidnap and rape in Illinois, USA.
His victim, Cathleen Webb, had identified him in a police line–up at the time.
But six years later, in 1985, Cathleen changed her mind. She admitted she’d lied.
Back in 1979, she’d been a high school student. She’d had sex with her boyfriend. Then, she’d panicked she was pregnant and made up a story about having been raped by a stranger.
Gary Dotson had been in the wrong place at the wrong time and had ended up going down for the make-believe crime.
Trouble was, in 1985, the governor of Illinois didn’t believe Cathleen’s sudden confession.
But, four years on, new evidence came to light.
A semen stain on Cathleen’s knickers was examined using new DNA technology.
The test found Gary wasn’t a match – but Cathleen’s boyfriend from her schooldays was.
After 10 years behind bars, once Cathleen’s admission had been proved truthful, Gary Dotson was released.
His name was cleared. And incredibly, he forgave Cathleen.
‘I have no animosities against the woman,’ he said.
UK: Angela Cannings
Some things run in the family. Take Angela Cannings. Sadly, her great-grandmother had lost a baby to cot death, or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
Her grandmother had lost two.
And, tragically, by 1999, Angela had lost three.
Baby Gemma died at 13 weeks old in 1989. Then there was Jason, at 7 weeks, in 1991, and Matthew, at 18 weeks, in 1999.
Gemma’s death had been recorded by the authorities as SIDS. But now Angela had lost two more, they were suspicious.
Angela, who was 36 at the time, was arrested.
Now, instead of concentrating on her grief and on her family, she, husband Terry, and surviving daughter Jade, born in 1996, had a battle to fight.
A battle against the law that Angela eventually lost.
Angela was found guilty on two counts of murder, on the evidence of a medical expert, doctor Roy Meadows, and sentenced to life in 2002.
He claimed the chance of a family suffering two cot deaths was ‘one in 73 million’.
But the court hadn’t taken into consideration the family history.
Twenty months later, the evidence given against Angela by Dr Roy Meadows was called into question. He’d given evidence against another mum, suggesting her baby had been killed. But that baby was later shown to have suffered a rare and deadly infection on his spine.
Angela’s case went to the Court of Appeal. This time, she won. Her conviction was overturned.
Angela was no murderer. She was the victim of a cruel, genetic quirk. Like her grandmother and great-grandmother before her.
Angela’s ordeal was over. She was released. And, at last, she could grieve for the children she’d heartbreakingly lost.
For more information on SIDS, please see the Lullaby Trust.
Australia: Lindy Chamberlain
Lindy and Michael Chamberlain’s baby daughter, Azaria, went missing from their tent during a camping trip to Uluru, in Australia’s Northern Territory, in 1980.
Lindy claimed a dingo, a fox-like wild dog, had snatched the 9-week-old girl.
The courts didn’t believe her.
She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life, while Michael was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact and given an 18-month suspended sentence.
Little Azaria’s body had never been found. And dingoes hadn’t been known to interfere much with humans before.
Six years on, in 1980, a piece of Azaria’s clothing was found buried in a dingo lair near Uluru.
Lindy was released from prison, but her real trial was still ahead.
For decades, people speculated no dingo could have carried a baby between its jaws. Gossips accused Lindy of belonging to a secretive cult, claiming she’d sacrificed her child to God and buried the body in the desert.
Three decades passed. During which time there were 10 serious attacks on humans by dingoes.
Scientists testified a dingo could indeed open its jaw wide enough to drag a baby by the head. And finally, in June 2012, baby Azaria’s cause of death was officially ruled as ‘attacked and taken by a dingo’.
Lindy Chamberlain’s trials by court and public were over.