|Innocent Jack Marion on the gallows|
It’s not unusual, since the development of DNA evidence, to learn that someone sitting on death row is proven to be innocent. In some cases, that’s occurred after the execution takes place. But prosecutors have often offered arguments that just because a convicted murderer’s DNA wasn’t found, it didn’t PROVE that the man wasn’t guilty. Somewhere in that equation, those prosecutors seem to forget that the accused is never required to prove innocence, just a reasonable question as to his guilt.
But in the case of William Jackson Marion’s conviction and execution, no such argument could be made by prosecutors. Marion’s innocence was confirmed four years after his execution, when the man he was convicted of killing, John Cameron, returned to Nebraska. There was no DNA evidence, but there was the live body of the man who was supposed to be dead.
|Jack Marion shortly before his execution|
It seems that Marion and Cameron were in business together and set out on a trip with both their teams and wagons. But only Marion returned. He told those who inquired that his partner had decided not to return. Some local Nebraskans became suspicious and when, a year later, a skeleton was found on the trail the two men had traveled, the conclusion was soon reached that it was the remains of Cameron and that Marion had murdered him. Marion's conduct didn’t help matter much when he disappeared after learning of the finding of a skeleton. It was ten years before he was captured and tried.
Jack Marion was tried three times, finally convicted and sentenced to hang fifteen years after his business partner went missing. Nebraska’s governor refused to commute the sentence, even though there was an organized protest against the conviction.
The McCook Tribune reported on March 31, 1887, under the headline “Paid the price at last,” that the condemned man spoke with a clear, strong voice and without emotion, when asked if he had any final words. “I have made no confession and have none to make,” he said moments before he was hanged.
Four years later, John Cameron returned to Nebraska from Alaska, where he apparently spent the years since leaving Marion along the trail. He was surprised to learn that his former partner had been hanged for his murder and told reporters that he and Marion had not even had harsh words for each other.
Interestingly, there was very limited reporting at the time of Cameron’s return about the unwarranted execution of Jack Marion. Maybe that’s why it took the State of Nebraska another hundred years before they pardoned the innocent man.