Being in the wrong place at the wrong time is normally something cautious parents warn us about to keep us from becoming the innocent victims of random violence. No matter how safe your overall surroundings may be, there’s always an outside chance that you could be strolling through that normally empty field the one time an ax-wielding murdered also happens to be taking advantage of that particular shortcut.
But what about those times when being in the wrong place at the wrong time works in the opposite direction? Here are six innocent people who went to prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time…
Victor Burnette Runs From An Open Container Charge
The title here should be more like “Victor Burnette runs from an open container charge and right into the unforgiving arms of a 25-year prison stay on rape charges.” In 1979, an 18-year-old woman fell asleep on her couch, leaving the main door to her apartment and a window wide open. She awoke in the middle of the night to find a man sexually assaulting her.
The victim claimed to have gotten a clear view of the suspect’s face as he left her apartment and, the next day, met with police to put together a composite sketch. It was during that meeting that the woman spotted Victor Burnette walking down the street. Upon seeing the victim sitting with police, Burnette turned around and ran. She identified Burnette as her attacker. Pretty sketchy, right? Not really.
Burnette was apprehended moments later and claimed that he ran because he had an open container of beer (he did) and didn’t want to get a ticket for it. Unfortunately, he still had the fact that a woman had pointed him out as the man who raped her to explain. The woman described her attacker as having long blonde hair and a mustache. Burnette had glasses and a full beard. He was arrested anyway, proclaiming his innocence the whole time.
In a twist worthy of a Hollywood movie, Victor Burnette was eventually able to convince lab technicians to retest the DNA samples from his case on his own, no state or outside agency intervention needed. The DNA evidence, which wasn’t available at the time of his trial, cleared Victor Burnette of any wrongdoing. And it only took 30 years to happen!
David Johns Bryson Picks a Bad Time to Injure His Penis
Say, we have a question for you. What did you do the last time you injured your penis? We mean seriously injured, like, in need of medical attention injured.
Right. You can’t answer that because it’s likely never happened. Unless it’s part of a larger spate of injuries, a penis laceration just rarely ever occurs. So it was awfully shitty timing when David Johns Bryson went to an Oklahoma City emergency room for a penis wound and ended up becoming the main target of a rape investigation.
What Bryson didn’t realize was, earlier that night, a woman leaving her job at a law firm was attacked and forced into a car by a man who drove her to a secluded area. When the man tried to force the victim to perform oral sex on him, she bit the dude right on his shaft. This understandably ended the attack, but it also placed David Johns Bryson in the cross hairs of a police investigation he had nothing to do with, because the cops were now searching for a man with a wounded poon.
After being treated for his injuries, Bryson was taken into custody when alert hospital employees (correctly) notified police that a man matching their penis injury description was in the ER.
As if injuring your penis on the same night that a would-be rapist injured his isn’t bad enough, during his trial Bryson also had to contend with the testimony of Joyce Gilchrist, a forensic analyst whose half-assed work contributed to at least four people being wrongly convicted of crimes. She testified that hair evidence could not rule Bryson out as the attacker and, just like that, he was in prison. That was in 1982. It would be 1997 before DNA evidence in the case was retested, another four years before Bryson was released and another two years from then before prosecutors finally decided to drop all charges and not retry Bryson.
Jeff Deskovic Is Late For School
Jeff Deskovic made some key errors in the days after the death of a 15-year-old classmate. For starters, he showed up to school late the day after the victim went missing. Knowing that only an animal bent on murder would dare disrespect the institution of high school by showing up late, investigators placed Deskovic at the top of the suspect list. Deskovic didn’t do much to help his cause from that point on.
Police noted that Deskovic seemed to be overly distraught at the death of the victim and was far too eager to help. He had launched his own “investigation” and wanted to share his notes with authorities. They asked him to submit to a polygraph instead.
What followed was an appalling six-hour interrogation in which Deskovic, unaccompanied by parents or a lawyer, ended up laying in the fetal position under a table, sobbing because he had just been coerced by police into confessing to a murder he did not commit. What makes Deskovic’s case more troubling is that, from the beginning of the investigation, police had DNA evidence showing that Deskovic was not the man who raped the young victim. Police carried on viewing Deskovic as the prime suspect on the strength of his confession and dismissed the DNA evidence as having come from consensual sex with another individual who was not involved in the crime.
In 2006, it was revealed during a new trial that the DNA evidence in question belonged to convicted murderer Stephen Cunningham, who subsequently confessed to the crime. Deskovic had been in prison for over 15 years before his name was finally cleared.
Marvin Anderson Is One Half of the Only Interracial Couple In Town
What wrong place was Marvin Anderson in that got him sent to prison? In a relationship with a white woman, that’s where. When a woman was assaulted in a park near her home in 1982, her attacker stated that she “looked like his white girlfriend.” The officer she told this to put his investigation skills to use and focused on Marvin Anderson as the prime suspect because Anderson was the only black man he knew who had a white girlfriend. While that’s perfectly fine police work if you’re the resident of a town with fewer than 10 residents, it doesn’t cut it in real life situations.
Or does it? The officer promptly compiled a photo lineup. It consisted of five black and white photos and one color photo. Can you guess who the color photo was? Correct, Marvin Anderson, a man who lived in the same apartment complex as the woman who had been attacked. Whether it was because his photo was the only one that was in color or because she just recognized him from the apartment complex is unclear, but the victim identified Marvin Anderson as the culprit. Meanwhile, rumors were already flying around town that another man, John Otis Lincoln, was the man who actually committed the crime. Police disregarded this talk and pressed on with the investigation of Marvin Anderson.
How shaky was the victim’s recollection of the man who attacked her? Well, in court she clearly pointed out Marvin Anderson and stated that his face would haunt her forever. Not long after that, during a recess, Anderson and his legal team were standing outside the courtroom when a woman, the victim in the case, approached the group and asked for a light. Marvin Anderson, standing closest to the woman, said he had a light and struck a match. The woman thanked him and strolled off as if she didn’t even recognize Marvin Anderson. That’s probably because she really didn’t.
After serving 15 years of a 210 YEAR SENTENCE, Marvin Anderson was finally exonerated when new evidence revealed that, sure enough, John Otis Lincoln committed the crime Marvin Anderson was wrongly accused of.
Gene Bibbins Finds a Radio
A teen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was asleep in her aunt’s apartment when a man entered through the window, assaulted her and left, pausing first to steal a radio. Apparently realizing moments later that having a radio under your arm when fleeing a crime scene is not good practice, the perpetrator dropped the radio.
When Gene Bibbins left his apartment, in the same complex but in a different building, he found that radio. Keep in mind, this was 1987, so at the time, it was kind of like you walking out your door today and finding an iPod on your steps. Even if you don’t keep it, you’re going to pick it up and see if it’s worth pawning. Gene Bibbins was no different.
Correction, Gene Bibbins was different because, when police found him with the radio, they took him back to the scene of the crime to be identified. The victim initially described her attacker as having long, curly hair and wearing jeans. Bibbins had short hair and was wearing gray shorts. Naturally, he was identified as the man who did the deed.
It took 15.5 years in prison before DNA evidence would clear Gene Bibbins’ name. Keep that in mind next time you stumble upon an expensive gadget just laying on the ground for no good reason.
Chad Heins Is a Heavy Sleeper
In fairness to all involved law enforcement officials, the Chad Heins case didn’t seem like much of a mystery. Two people are in an apartment. One person is brutally murdered and the apartment is set on fire, likely to conceal evidence. The other person comes through the other side of the harrowing incident without so much as a scratch on them. Simple logic would imply that the person in the apartment who wasn’t killed must have been the killer. That’s exactly what Chad Heins was facing.
He was living with his brother in Jacksonville, Florida at the time. The brother was in the Navy, aboard a ship when the crime occurred. The brother’s wife, Chad Heins’ sister-in-law, lived in the same apartment. Chad came home from a night of drinking at around 12:30 am and promptly fell asleep. His sister-in-law, Tina, apparently came home a couple hours later.
What happened between the moment when Tina Heins arrived home and when Chad Heins awoke on the couch in the living room is still a mystery. It was especially a mystery for Chad, considering there were now three fires burning in the apartment, one on the very couch where he slept. Somehow, Chad Heins had slept soundly while a still unidentified man stabbed his sister-in-law to death, set the apartment on fire and fled.
Ha! A likely story, right? Nobody sleeps through that kind of chaos. That’s probably what police thought when they arrested Heins and charged him with murder and didn’t relent until he was shipped off to prison on a life sentence. There was ample forensic evidence to suggest that another man was in the apartment and committed the crime, most of it on the actual victim. There was also a bloody fingerprint which didn’t belong to Tina or Chad Heins in the bathroom.
All of this evidence was ignored on the grounds that Chad was the only other person in the apartment when the crime occurred. Also ignored…the fact that no physical evidence tied Chad to the crime. It was also revealed during the trial that Chad Heins suffered from a sleep disorder that made him hard to rouse normally, even more so when he had been drinking, as he had been that night. It was a medical condition that caused him to sleep through the attack.
When DNA evidence was retested in 2007, it proved Chad Heins was not the man who killed Tina Heins. He had been in jail for over 13 years at the time of his release.