Wrongly Convicted Database Record


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Craig H. Bell



Second Degree Murder


20 years

Years Imprisoned:


Year Crime:


Year Convicted:


Year Cleared:


U.S. State or Country of Crime:


County or Region of Crime:

Virginia Beach

City of Crime:

Virginia Beach


Judicially Exonerated Released

Summary of Case:

"Craig H. Bell was wrongly convicted on August 7, 1987 of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of his fiancée on October 5, 1986 in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Bell was prosecuted and convicted by the jury although the police didn't link him to fingerprints, clothing and hair samples found at the murder scene, there were numerous signs of an intruder, and he didn't confess. The prosecution's case was entirely based on the circumstantial evidence that he was upstairs sleeping at the time the assault took place. After his conviction by a jury Bell was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Two months after Bell's conviction Jesse Calvin Smith was arrested at the same apartment complex at which Bell's fiancée was murdered, after he was caught peeping into windows. Smith was questioned as a suspect in two rapes at the apartment complex, and there were similarities between the break-ins involved in those rape cases and the evidence in the apartment where Bell's fiancée was murdered. When questioned Smith admitted that clothing found at the murder scene was his, and he provided details that weren't publicly disclosed. He confessed to breaking in and stabbing Bell's fiancée when she awoke. Based on Jesse Calvin Smith's confession a motion was filed by the Commonwealth's Attorney to set-aside Bell's conviction in October 1987. Bell was released from prison the following day when the motion was granted. The 25-year-old Bell had served only two months of his sentence. Smith was later convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. In January 1988 two Virginia state senators introduced a bill to compensate Bell with $56,000. The bill was not passed by the legislature. The DA told the press after Bell's release, "Even with the safeguards that we are so proud of, the system is still human-engineered and human-run. Innocent people can be convicted of crimes very easily." The judge who vacated Bell's conviction commented about his case, "We do as much as we can to ensure that innocent people are not convicted. This is one of those cases that didn't work.""

Conviction Caused By:

Innocence Proved By:

"Based on Jesse Calvin Smith's confession to committing the murder, a motion was filed by the Commonwealth's Attorney to set-aside Bell's conviction in October 1987. Bell was released from prison the following day when the motion was granted. "

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Was Perpetrator Identified?

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Information Source 1:

"“In Spite of Innocence: Erroneous Convictions in Capital Cases,” Michael L Radelet, HugoAdam Bedau, and Constance E. Putnam, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1996 pb ed. with new forward, p. 286."

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Information Source 2:

"Bill would pay innocent man, By Associated Press, Ludington Daily News, January 22, 1988"

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Innocents Database Created and Maintained by Hans Sherrer innocents@forejustice.org

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