Heywood Pugh

Black defendants, white victim, false confessions, withheld evidence

Two African American men — Heywood Pugh (a.k.a. Earl Howard Pugh) and Walter Fowler — were convicted in 1937 in Cook County the murder of William J. Haag, a white Railway Express Agency driver, who was stabbed to death during an apparent robbery on September 5, 1936. The convictions rested on signed confessions obtained by the Chicago Police. Fowler was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison and Pugh to life.

Fowler died in prison in 1948, five years before evidence of his innocence came to light. Pugh was exonerated and released in 1953 based on exculpatory information that police had hidden for seventeen years — statements from two eyewitnesses to the murder identifying another man, Eddie Leison, as Haag's killer. In 1955, the Illinois General Assembly awarded Pugh $51,000 for his pain and suffering — $3,000 for each year he spent behind bars for a crime he did not commit.

Case Data

Crime date: September 5, 1936
Jurisdiction: Cook County, Illinois
Crime: Murder
Related crime(s): Robbery
Age: 19
Gender: Male
Race or ethnicity: African American
Arrest date: September 17, 1936
Victim: Walter J. Haag
Victim’s occupation: Railway Express Agency driver
Victim’s gender: Male
Victim’s race: White
Victim’s age: 42
How defendant became a suspect: Happened to be in vicinity where crime occurred twelve days after the fact.
Principal evidence of defendant’s guilt: Signed confession
Principal defense: Claim confession was beaten out of him
Type of trial: Jury (all-white)
Conviction date: January 17, 1937
Convicted of: Murder
Sentence: Life
Appellate record: None (there was no direct appeal, and Fowler died in 1949)
Basis for exoneration: Exculpatory information police had withheld for seventeen years — statements from two eyewitnesses to the murder identifying the killer as Eddie Leison, a south side thug
Legal form of exoneration: Charges dismissed
Release date: June 23, 1953
Days of incarceration: 6,127
Prior record: None
Compensation: $51,000 — $3,000 for each year Pugh was wrongfully incarcerated

— Rob Warden