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In two works of fiction I read or saw, a person was convicted for murder when the victim was actually alive. (In one case, not quite alive - police take finger prints of an unknown 30 year old woman, freshly murdered, and finds that they match a 16 year old girl supposedly murdered 14 years before, with her father in jail for the murder.)

Now while this makes for an interesting story, have there been any real cases where this happened where A was convicted of murdering B, then later it is shown that B was well and alive long enough that A couldn't have been guilty? In addition to no evidence suggesting that A murdered someone else?

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    A Google search for murder conviction victim alive turns up lots. Here is a 2009 CNN story listing six. Nov 17, 2022 at 15:46
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – feetwet
    Nov 20, 2022 at 18:55

6 Answers 6

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Although the alleged victim has not been found, this case from the upi.com archives dated 25/09/1986 is worthy of note (emphasis mine):

A woman jailed for murdering her husband had her conviction reversed when a witness testified she saw the man on television -- in a crowd at a cricket match -- three years after he allegedly was killed.

The New South Wales Court of Appeal Wednesday overturned the murder conviction of Margaret Burton, saying the case against her relied on a web of circumstantial evidence and that the new evidence provided reasonable doubt of her guilt.

Burton, however, still must complete an 8-year sentence for conspiracy to commit murder.

She was sentenced to life in prison on Nov. 8, 1984, for the May 1983 murder of her husband. She and Ronald Burke, a close friend, also were sentenced to eight years in jail for conspiracy to murder her husband, Peter Burton.

Peter Burton's body never was found.

At the appeals court hearing, Judy Edmonds testified she is sure she saw Peter Burton in the crowd at a televised cricket match in January.

Edmonds was shown a videotape of part of the cricket match and identified a man in sunglasses as Peter Burton. She said she was a close friend of his.

Another witness, Jan Dyson, told the court the man in the videotape bore a remarkable resemblance to Peter Burton.

Lawyers for Margaret Burton argued before the appeals court her conviction should be overturned because the prosecution failed to prove Peter Burton was dead.

Appeals Court Chief Justice Sir Laurence Street agreed, saying it is not for the court to decide whether or not the person on the videotape is Peter Burton, but it is the court's responsibility to determine how a reasonable jury would have regarded the new evidence.

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    So the convicted person is still guilty of "conspiracy to commit murder" meaning they wanted the victim dead, but a sighting means they are not guilty of murder "beyond reasonable doubt" anymore.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 17, 2022 at 22:00
  • Ah, the anonymous downvote!
    – user35069
    Dec 6, 2022 at 9:38
  • @gnasher729 yes, conspiracy is the planning of a future offence, which does not necessarily need to be carried out for whatever reason.
    – user35069
    Dec 6, 2022 at 9:39
18

There was a quite famous case in Spain in 1910, the Crime of Cuenca.

A man disappeared from a village, and an investigation didn't find anything. A couple of years later popular pressure lead to the investigation being reopened and two suspects being interrogated until they confessed under torture. 16 years after the alleged murder, the victim showed up alive in the village and it was discovered that he had gone away voluntarily and lived since then in a town 100 km away.

By then the accused were already free after 12 years in prison but the sentence were eventually overturned. Those held responsible of justice miscarriage were tried but finally acquitted.

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    That's another high pressure confession...
    – gnasher729
    Nov 17, 2022 at 22:02
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Just doing a quick text search on the Wikipedia list of wrongful convictions in the US for things like "living" and "alive" I found three and a half (the half is the person definitely was dead/murdered but the prosecution's case depended on the murder happening on a specific day and other people testified that actually they had seen the person alive after that day)...

Marion was convicted of killing John Cameron, who left with him to work on the railroad in 1872. In 1891, four years after Marion's execution by hanging, Cameron turned up alive, explaining that he had vanished by his own volition. He had spent twenty years traveling across Mexico, Alaska, and Colorado. On March 25, 1987, Marion was pardoned posthumously by the State of Nebraska on the 100th anniversary of his hanging.

Hudspeth and George Watkins's wife Rebecca were arrested. After lengthy interrogation, Rebecca allegedly made a statement accusing Hudspeth of murdering Watkins to get him out of the way so they could be married. Based on Rebecca's testimony, Hudspeth was convicted and sentenced to death. He was hanged at Harrison, Arkansas, on December 30, 1892. In 1893, Hudspeth's lawyer located the alleged victim, George Watkins, alive and well in Kansas.

Wilson was convicted of murdering his wife, Jenny Willson, and their 19-month-old daughter. Bones presented by the prosecution in court were later discovered to be those of at least four or five people and likely of indigenous ethnicity. Wilson received a formal pardon from the Alabama governor after his wife and daughter were discovered to be living in Vincennes, Indiana.

Allen Ray Jenkins, age 56, was found dead on April 14, 1995, in his home in Aulander, North Carolina. He had been shot twice in the chest with a shotgun. In the days and weeks after the murder, the police talked to several disinterested witnesses who said they had seen Jenkins alive as late as April 10.[188] Two teenage girls testified that they were involved in a conspiracy involving Gell in exchange for a lower sentence. Gell was in prison or otherwise out of town for all but one day in April. Although the date of death is unknown, prosecutors hitched their timeline to that date. Gell's conviction was overturned after it was later discovered that prosecutors had withheld exculpatory evidence, including the testimony of 17 witnesses who said they had seen Jenkins alive after that date as well as a tape recording of one of the girls saying that she had to make up a story to tell the police. Gell was retried and acquitted of all charges.[189]

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The Criminal Code provides for Ministerial review of a conviction when there is new and significant information:

An application for ministerial review must be supported by “new matters of significance” – generally new information that has surfaced since the trial and appeal and therefore has not been presented to the courts and has not been considered by the Minister on a prior application.

The new information must be:

  • reasonably capable of belief
  • relevant to guilt
  • could have affected the verdict if presented at trial

Finding that the victim identified in the charging document was not even dead would absolutely meet the threshold for Ministerial review.1.


1. If the Minister's decision or process contains reviewable errors, then the Minister's decision itself can be quashed on judicial review. The Minister's process must conform to the procedure set out in the Regulations Respecting Applications for Ministerial Review — Miscarriages of Justice. The Minister's substantive decision is reviewed on a reasonableness standard. See Canada (Justice) v. D.V., 2022 FCA 181 at paras. 13-21.

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There is the case of Natasha Ryan. She was simply given a fine for instigating an investigation into her false murder.

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    It seems she was found alive as the trial against her supposed murderer was running.
    – gnasher729
    Nov 20, 2022 at 22:54
-4

Theoretically speaking there are ways this can happen.

The Felony Murder rule in some Common Law Jurisdictions holds that if a death of a person can be directly linked to a criminal action of someone, it is automatically treated as pre-meditated murder, even if the death was not intended to occur as part of the crime. Traditionally, this followed the "A Year and a Day Rule" (the death must occur within one calendar year plus one additional day), but many jurisdictions can allow for much longer gap between TOD and Date of Incident. Thus you can be convicted for a murder that occurred on the date of a crime, despite the victim being alive for some time after that date.

Additionally many people are convicted of murder without the body ever having been found. While often it's likely that they can prove that the manner of death was such that body could never be recovered but the evidence can place both the victim and the killer at the scene of the murder. Having the body of a murder victim dramatically helps, but is not necessarily needed in order to convict.

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    In the former case, how would one be convicted of murder if the victim was still alive at the time of the conviction (as asked about in the question)?
    – minnmass
    Nov 18, 2022 at 17:22

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