The extended family of Harry Gleeson have been trying to clear his name for well over 70 years.
Hanged in Mountjoy prison in 1941, Gleeson was charged with the murder of his neighbour Moll McCarthy and died less than six months after her body was discovered.
Incidentally, he was the person who discovered her mutilated corpse. He was the one who alerted police. The same police accused him of shooting the unmarried mother of seven with a shotgun, blasting off the left side of her face and the right side of her neck. This was despite him having a legitimate alibi for his whereabouts at the time of her death.
It doesn't add up.
This is the reason why a perceived injustice has been carried by several generations of the family, why the Gleeson family strove for years to get posthumous exoneration, piecing together information that they believe proves Harry Gleeson to be innocent. Information that proves he was sentenced to death for a crime he didn't commit, all the while being labelled as a murderer.
Only last year did the Department of Justice hear their cries. After linking up with the Irish Innocence Project at Griffith College Dublin, the Gleesons gathered new evidence to support their case.
A new pathologist's report showed that McCarthy's body temperature indicates that she was killed on the morning her body was found, rather than the suggested previous evening.
A firearms register supposedly proving that Gleeson's uncle bought ammunition several weeks prior to McCarthy's death was never seen in court despite the judge requesting it. Instead the prosecution relied on a receipt as proof that the accused had access to the same bullets that killed the victim. However, when the register was eventually examined it had been found that the cartridges listed were different to the ones used to kill McCarthy.
Arguably the strongest piece of evidence is a statement from the nurse who looked after McCarthy's daughter at a Dublin hospital a little over twenty years ago. Mary McCarthy Jr allegedly told her "I saw my own mother shot on the kitchen floor and an innocent man died."
The case is currently under review with a decision expected soon on whether or not an exoneration will be granted.
The campaign has been helped by attention from several newspapers and media organisations. A Prime Time episode titled “Hanged Man” highlighted the case in July.
It's fair to say that the Irish Innocence Project has helped the crusade get the publicity required to make it a matter that can no longer be ignored or shrugged aside.
The Irish Innocence Project began in 2009 in the Law Faculty at Griffith College Dublin (GCD). Students from Trinity College, Dublin City University and the University of Limerick are also involved in the project. Students review post-conviction cases where claims of wrongful conviction or incorrect court judgment have been made.
Qualified barristers supervise the review process and simultaneously advise the students. After reviewing each case, a report is produced that recommends either pursuing the case or taking no further action.
Fittingly, GCD is the venue of the First Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day which will take place this evening (October 2). Among the guest speakers at the event will be Kevin Gleeson, grandnephew of Harry, as well as other members of the Gleeson family. The event, an observance to honour the innocent who have been convicted and their families, will be celebrated around the world. Since the first Innocence Project was launched in New York in 1992, more than sixty five others have been founded globally.
Speaking about Wrongful Conviction Day, David Langwallner, founding director of the Irish Innocence Project, expressed how significant Thursday's event is: "This is an important event intended to call attention to the human rights issue of wrongful convictions. Every week, if not every day, a person who was wrongly convicted of a crime they didn't commit is being exonerated somewhere in the world. It could - and does - happen to anyone."
High-profile cases in recent months bring home the fact that it really can happen to anyone. The Central Park Five, wrongfully accused as teenagers of raping and brutally beating a jogger in Central Park, finally received compensation to the tune of $41 million between them earlier this month but that money doesn't give back the years that prison took away. Half-brothers Henry Lee McCollum and Leon Brown were also locked up as teenagers for a heinous crime they didn't commit in North Carolina and were exonerated just a few weeks ago, but not before spending more than thirty years behind bars.
Victims of a lazy justice system. Victims of shoddy police work, corruption, intimidation and coerced confessions. Extraordinarily, these are the lucky cases. Although they suffered greatly, they escaped with their lives, eventually saw justice and had their reputations restored. Harry Gleeson, a man who told his barrister that he had no "hand, act or part in the murder”, lost his life but partial justice can still be recovered.
The First Annual International Wrongful Conviction Day takes place in Griffith College Dublin from 5PM to 6PM today, October 2.
Entry is free and there will be an opportunity for questions and answers as well as a wine reception.