Last month, in partnership with Smithsonian Magazine and WBUR, the Marshall Project profiled a prosecutor who, nearly a century ago, prevented the wrongful conviction and execution of a young man by recognizing the telltale signs of his innocence.
Harold Israel was arrested in Bridgeport, Connecticut in 1924 for carrying a concealed weapon and soon found himself charged with the recent murder of a local priest.
Five people implicated Israel after a local newspaper encouraged witnesses to come forward to help solve the murder. Police said the bullet that killed the priest came from Israel’s gun. After 28 hours in custody, Israel confessed to the murder.
Despite this evidence, Fairfield County Prosecutor Homer Cummings was not convinced. He interviewed the witnesses and visited the spots from which they said they saw the crime occur. He determined that their accounts were unreliable. He asked six other ballistic experts to compare the bullet to Israel’s gun, and each concluded it was not a match. He had three doctors examine Israel, and each found that he was weak, impressionable and incoherent. They each said his confession should not be admissible.
Based on this, Cummings asked the judge to drop the charges against Israel. The judge consented and, once he completed his sentence for the concealed weapon, Israel was released.
Years later, knowing that Israel was struggling to support his family, Cummings helped him earn money by selling the rights to his story. Israel and Cummings began an unlikely friendship, which lasted until Cummings’ death in 1956.
Read the Marshall Project profile here.