one of the most potent and effective tools available to police and
prosecutors. It is compelling, and time after time, it convinces
juries of the guilt of a defendant. The problem is, eyewitness
identifications are WRONG at least 50% of the time!
about the real-life victims
of faulty eyewitness identification and see what experts have to say on
links to updates with the original news articles
reporting eyewitness identification issues, so be sure to scroll down to check for "new news".
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It was a hot, humid August night in 1995 when two men entered E.T.'s Sandwiches Almighty Deli in Newark, NJ ordered "a corn beef sandwich with everything" and shot the owner dead. Newark detectives quickly zeroed in on a suspect, Darrell Edwards, who lived in the neighborhood, and arrested him on Sept. 15, 1995 based on a "police-directed" identification of him by a heroin addict, who has since recanted. After three mistrials, a jury convicted Edwards of store owner Errich Thomas' murder. Now, DNA proves what Darrell has said all along: he wasn't there. The state, of course, is wrapped in denial and opposing a retrial.
Michael DisimoJuanita Rodriguez-Gallegos, who was arrested for a string of bank robberies in Gilbert and surrounding communities. Did they notify either the prosecution or Rachel's defense attorneys? Of course not. Rachel served 7 years of a 14-year prison sentence for Rodriguez-Gallegos' crimes before the federal government admitted its error.
After a suburban Pittsburgh, PA bank was robbed, Michael Disimo was pulled over by a police officer who thought Michael fit the teller's description. Under pressure, the teller identified Michael. He spent two months in jail and lost his job before the real robber was nabbed and confessed. Michael learned that, the Constitution notwithstanding, you have to be able to prove your own innocence. He also learned that in Pennsylvania, you can't sue for negligent prosecution.
Two weeks after his release from prison in March 1991, Marcus Lyons arrived at the DuPage County Courthouse carrying a wooden cross. As police tried to intervene, Lyons stepped onto a small platform attached to the bottom of the 8- by 6-foot crucifix, lifted a hammer and drove a nail into his foot. It was a cry for help. Lyons had just served 3 years in prison for a rape he said he didn't commit. "I needed someone to listen," he said in a recent interview. A few years ago, someone finally did. A new attorney took his case, and in September, 2007, after DNA evidence from the 1987 crime proved his innocence, Lyons' conviction was dismissed by DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett -- the same prosecutor who tried the case.
Value of eyewitnesses unclearFew people listened when Ronald Gene Taylor declared himself innocent of a rape charge 14 years ago. But the Harris County District Attorney's Office finally agreed with him on October 3, 2007, acknowledging that the scandal-plagued Houston Police Department crime lab was responsible for sending yet another wrong person to prison. The crime lab said there was no semen on a sheet taken from the rape scene. New tests yielded the DNA profile of another man, a sex offender currently in prison, who looks very much like Taylor.
"Eyewitness ID reform is the No. 1 priority of people who want to reduce the number of wrongful convictions," said Edwin Colfax, Texas state program director for the Justice Project, a criminal justice reform organization. "It is the single most important thing we can do." Colfax said erroneous eyewitness testimony was the key ingredient in 24 of the 30 Texas cases that have been reversed after belated DNA testing.
In 1982, a rape victim riveted a Dallas, Texas jury with her identification of Steven Phillips as her attacker. She spoke at length about his "striking blue eyes." So did the victims in 8 other sex crimes. Phillips' eyes are green. But when the jury convicted him anyway, Phillips pled guilty to the other crimes, which involved fondling. Now Phillips is the first to benefit from Dallas DA Craig Watkins' joint initiative with the Cardozo Innocence Project, to identify and free the innocent.
A defense lawyer was found ineffective because he failed to inquire into the effects of blood loss and heavy sedation on the memory of a robbery victim who identified a defendant 11 days after the crime, a federal appeals court has ruled. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the conviction of Derrick Bell, who is serving 12 1/2 to 25 years in prison for the robbery and shooting of Brentonol Moriah in Brooklyn in 1996. Moriah, who suffered enormous blood loss from a single shot to the thigh, spent the next 11 days under heavy sedation and in a near-comatose state. He did not name Bell as his assailant at the scene of the crime, instead giving only a general description of "male black, wearing a lemon-colored shirt," even though he knew Bell from having shared space with him in a rooming house for more than a year.
UPDATE: 10/11/07 - NC Gov. Mike Easley has signed a pardon of innocence for Dwayne, clearing the way for him to receive compensation for the 18 years he spent in prison.
'Sometimes I wonder if death ain't better.'
Perhaps only Roger Dean Gillispie knows for sure whether he kidnapped and raped three Fairborn, Ohio area women in 1988. No physical evidence tied him to the crime. He was convicted on the basis of eyewitness identifications made two years after the crimes occurred. His case illustrates the tough road for inmates who insist they are innocent but cannot use DNA to prove it.
UPDATE: 12/15/11 - U.S. District Magistrate Judge Michael R. Merz has ruled that Roger Dean Gillispie didn’t get a fair trial when he was convicted of rape, kidnapping and aggravated robbery in 1991 and ordered the state to either retry him by July 1 or free him from prison. Former Ohio Attorney General Jim Petro is one of Gillispie's advocates; the current Ohio Attorney General vows to appeal. A classic case of false identification and prosecutor intractability.
UPDATE: 12/23/11 - Roger Gillispie has been released from prison on recognizance bond, wearing an electronic monitor and kept under house arrest. His legal saga could continue for years.
UPDATE: 11/30/15 -- A state court has barred retrial and dismissed the indictment against Dean with prejudice.
UPDATE: On 9/11/07, Judge David Ashworth dropped all charges against Ted Dubbs after prosecutors admitted the crimes he was convicted of committing were perpetrated by Wilbur Brown. Dubbs' Conviction Thrown Out.
COMMENTARY: Sometimes justice happens in spite of the justice system. Sometimes it only happens when the people in the justice system get their noses rubbed in their messes. On 9/11/07, Lancaster County District Attorney Donald R. Totaro did the right thing by freeing Charles T. "Ted" Dubbs from a 12- to 40-year prison term in two sexual attacks he probably did not commit. Dubbs was sentenced in May 2002. Wilbur Cyrus Brown, a serial rapist who confessed to 13 other rapes, including one on the same jogging trail where Dubbs supposedly committed his crimes, confessed to those attacks in November. But Totaro had to spin things to portray his office as a well-oiled machine that immediately turned to fix an honest error when it came to their attention. That’s not what happened.
same day -- March 29, 2007 -- in Buffalo, NY and in St. Louis, MO, two
innocent men were cleared of crimes in which the only evidence against
them was their identification by the victims as the perpetrators.
The eyewitnesses were wrong.
Analysis: The Wrongful Conviction of Anthony Capozzi: The Hindsight of DNA Technology by William J. Morgan, Jr.
The victim picked him from among four men.
The case began on the evening of July 21, 1994. Police officers all over Queens, NY were looking for four Latino men suspected of snatching three cases of Tahitian black pearls from vendors returning to their hotel in Elmhurst from a gem show in Manhattan. The vendors estimated the jewels’ value at $1.5 million. As they escaped, the thieves rushed at a man in his driveway, demanding his car. The man was an off-duty police officer, and he managed to shoot his service weapon, a 9-millimeter Glock, before he was knocked unconscious. He told detectives later that he thought he had hit a robber who was grabbing at the barrel of the gun. That same night, Napoleon Cardenas accidentally shot himself in the hand .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol that he had been showing to two visitors. Witnesses who couldn't pick Napoleon out of a line up immediately after the incident decided they could identify him after days and even years had passed. After 7 years in prison, Cardenas was able to prove his innocence with the bullet fragments in his hand -- from a .380-caliber pistol, not a 9-millimeter Glock.
The Dallas County, TX district attorney's office has acknowledged that prosecutors illegally withheld evidence that might have saved a man from a 1983 rape conviction and 10 years in prison. Newly discovered evidence amassed by attorneys for James Curtis Giles "strongly suggests" that he was misidentified -- based on his name alone -- as one of three men involved in the gang rape, prosecutors said. They said his conviction should be overturned, but stopped short of declaring Mr. Giles innocent. Instead, they asked state District Judge Robert Francis for additional time to investigate Mr. Giles' claim that a man with a nearly identical name was the true rapist.
Similar: Kerry Sanders was whisked from Los Angeles, CA to prison in Stormville, NY when he was mistaken for fugitive Robert Sanders. For 2 years, no one would listen when he insisted, "My Name is Not Robert."
Snipes presented alibis and a witness who testified that a man named Terrance Wyatt was the robber. Wyatt was caught committing an identical robbery while Snipes was in prison.
Willie O. "Pete" Williams, who is now 44, was convicted largely on the eyewitness testimony of the rape victim and of another woman who was assaulted — though not raped — a few days later in the parking lot of another Roswell Road complex.
Marlon Pendleton of Chicago, Illinois says, "I always knew I was innocent," although the woman who picked him out of a line up was certain he was her assailant. His repeated requests for DNA testing went unheeded while he served the first 10 years of his 100 year sentence for rape. U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow heard his plea and ordered DNA testing. The results absolutely exclude Marlon as the rapist. The victim, however, remains convinced that she picked the right man.
Mr. Rivera's picture was picked out of an array of photos by Mr. Peralta and another witness, and in February 1993, five months after the shooting, Mr. Rivera was charged with killing Mr. Aquino and shooting Mr. Peralta. He was convicted in December 1995. The eyewitness now says he did not see the killer long enough to identify him, and new witnesses have come forward to assert that Mr. Rivera was not even present at the scene of the crime.
In Chicago in 1997, June Siler mistakenly identified Robert Wilson as the man who slashed her with a razor blade, after viewing a suggestive photo line up and being told he had confessed. This is a chilling reminder of how easy it is for police and prosecutors to manipulate a witness' testimony. Now, June wants to make things right for Robert.
Larry FullerStuart Gair, of Glasgow, Scotland, was convicted of stabbing a man to death in 1989 and sentenced to life in prison. Gair had a solid alibi that placed him on the other side of the city at the time of the crime, but the jury believed an eyewitness who said he "studied" the killer's face. What neither the jury nor Gair's attorneys knew was that the eyewitness had already admitted to police that he had made up most of his identification story. Seventeen years later, Gair's conviction has finally been vacated.
In April 1981, a Dallas woman was attacked and raped in her bedroom. When police showed her photographs of potential suspects two days later, she did not identify Fuller. Several days later, police showed her a second group of photos. The photograph of Fuller was the only one that appeared in both arrays. Although the victim said her attacker did not have facial hair, and Fuller was pictured with a full beard, she identified him and he was arrested. Twenty-five years later, Fuller has been exonerated by DNA.
Experts don't see police errors in Tillman case
The most striking aspect of Journal Inquirer interviews with four eyewitness-identification experts about the case of James Calvin Tillman is what they failed to produce. None of the experts identified a clear error in the procedures Hartford police used in investigating the case. Although several experts suggested that the jury in Tillman's 1989 trial would have benefited by hearing from an expert in eyewitness identification, none identified a compelling point an expert could have made to change the jurors' minds.
Shaun RodriguesShaun Rodrigues claims he is innocent of a Manoa, Hawaii robbery that happened in July, 2000. Robert Rees of the Honolulu Advertiser described Rodrigues' conviction: "What we have here is an injustice illustrative of the dangers inherent in eyewitness identifications without one iota of physical evidence. The Rodrigues verdict is illustrative also of the danger of combining overzealous prosecutors, uninhibited either by a dearth of evidence or by sloppy police work, with a judge who may have allowed her subjective feeling about the credibility of witnesses to become a factor in determination of guilt." But the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld his conviction, and he turned himself in on January 9, 2006.
It took a courtroom minute to end 15 months of limbo for Clyde A. Johnson 4th, a Philadelphia, PA social worker wrongly accused of a shooting that investigators now say could be linked to confessed serial killer Juan Covington. Police arrested Johnson after he was picked out of a photo lineup by the victim. Unable to post $1 million bail, Johnson was detained at the city's Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility. When Covington confessed to three slayings, police took a second look at the case against Johnson. The Bryant shooting occurred around the corner from Covington's home. Bullets were tested and matched a gun owned by Covington.
Forest Shomberg, 41, is serving a 12-year prison term for a sexual assault in Madison, WI, a crime for which he has always professed innocence. At the heart of his appeal is the argument that the trial judge erred in disallowing testimony from an expert witness knowledgeable in the area of eyewitness identifications. The victim agreed at trial with statements that she picked Shomberg because he was "the best of the six," even though "he very well could have not been the guy." His fate now rests in the hands of the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
UPDATE: The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld Shomberg's conviction.
UPDATE: 11/13/09 -- Friday the 13th was the luckiest day Forest Shomberg has had in a long time. Judge Patrick Fiedler cited new DNA evidence and newly developed scientific research on faulty eyewitness identification in overturning his own judgment of conviction in the 2002 case. Shomberg left the courthouse a Free Man.
DNA has allowed Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer David Hansen to dodge a deadly bullet. When a woman was raped in February, 2005 by a man who offered her a ride home from her health club, she picked David out of more than 1,400 photos of club members. Arrested, charged with first-degree sexual contact and kidnapping, placed on administrative leave, David was cleared by DNA. The charges have been dropped, although the county attorney says there is no evidence that leads to another suspect.
For 26 years, the people of Miami, Florida believed the Bird Road Rapist was Luis Diaz, and that he had been caught and locked up. The rapist was named after the location in the Miami area where the rapes occurred. The rapist used the same method with all of his victims: He attacked young women driving in the Bird Road-U.S. 1 area of Coral Gables. He would signal the women to pull over by flashing his headlights, then force them to have sex at gunpoint. Diaz was convicted based on identifications made by eight victims, even though some of them initially described their attacker as being 6-feet tall, 200 pounds, and fluent in English. Diaz is 5-foot-3, about 130 pounds and speaks little to no English. He also constantly smelled of onions because he worked as a fry cook - although none of the victims described their attacker having that odor. Now DNA as excluded Diaz as the Bird Road Rapist, and he has been set free.
Alejandro DominguezThirty years ago Juneal Pratt was convicted of raping two sisters who were staying in a motel together in Omaha, Nebraska. The conviction hinged on the women's identification of Pratt in a line up; his alibi witnesses were rejected by the jury. New testing has excluded Pratt as the source of DNA found on the women's clothes. He stands on the brink of becoming Nebraska's first DNA exoneration.
Alejandro Dominguezwas 16 when he was charged with the September 1989 home invasion and rape in Waukegan. He was convicted in a 1990 trial, in large part because the victim identified him as her attacker. Dominguez insisted he was wrongly identified and was innocent. Sentenced to 9 years in state prison, he served more than 4 years, receiving time off for good behavior, before he was released in December 1993. Even though he was free, Dominguez continued to try to prove his innocence. He persuaded lawyer Jed Stone to seek DNA testing on semen recovered from the victim. The tests excluded Dominguez as a source of the semen, and they prompted Lake County prosecutors and Stone to ask a judge to vacate the convictions.
Nearly 24 years after his arrest, independent DNA tests by three laboratories, including the Louisiana state crime lab, show what Williams has long contended: He is not the man who committed the crime.
UPDATE: 3/1/07 - Persad's was one of the most controversial criminal cases in recent memory: one eyewitness, a 90-second look at a stranger before the stranger fired. No physical evidence. Persad's case wended in and out of courts for years. A month ago, Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga threw out the ID, the keystone of the case. On March 1, 2007, prosecutors wiped Persad's slate clean. Charge dropped in "road rage" shooting.
Clarence Harrison of Decatur, GA, has spent 17 years in prison for rape, kidnapping and robbery. The victim identified him from both a photo and live lineup. He has become the 150th person proven innocent by DNA in the past ten years.
This Sharpes, FL case was a classic -- mistaken victim identification and perjured snitch testimony put him in prison for a 1981 rape. He has been exonerated by DNA, and freed after 22 years.
After nine men were convicted here for crimes they did not commit, Boston police and the Suffolk County district attorney's office have agreed on a series of reforms on how evidence is gathered, especially from witnesses to a crime.
Click HERE to read the Report of the Task Force on Eyewitness Evidence.
David Lemus and Olmado Hidalgo have spent 12 years in jail for the murder of a New York City nightclub bouncer named Marcus Peterson and the attempted murder of another man on Nov. 23, 1990. Three eyewitnesses identified Jose Figueroa.as the man who had acted as a mediator between the bouncers and the murderers during an argument earlier in the night. But Figueroa was in jail that night, and the same eyewitnesses also identified Lemus and Hidalgo.
Michael Roper's case has all the hallmarks of a wrongful conviction -- shaky eyewitness identification, jailhouse "snitch" testimony and no physical evidence connecting him to the murder of an Akron, Ohio convenience store owner. At his 4th trial the jury convicted him, but they didn't know another suspect closely resembles Roper.
UPDATE: Michael Roper denied new trial despite prosecutor misconduct.
In 1997 an assailant dropped his hat when he shot Boston police officer Gregory Gallagher in the buttocks. Then the shooter burst into a nearby home, drank a glass of water and dropped his sweatshirt before fleeing. Later Officer Gallagher identified Stephan Cowans as the assailant (although the woman whose home was invaded disagreed) and a crime lab technician said a fingerprint on the water glass was Stephan's. Now DNA has trumped both. DNA on the hat, the sweatshirt and the water glass are from the same person -- but not from Stephan.
Link: Landmark Series from the Winston-Salem, NC Journal
Murder, Race, Justice
The State of North Carolina v. Darryl Hunt
a 19-year-old black man was charged with the murder of 25-year-old
Deborah Sykes, it set off a case that has helped define race relations
in Winston-Salem for nearly 20 years. Hunt was convicted twice
the lack of physical evidence and DNA tests that excluded him. Although such
DNA test results have freed numerous others in rape and murder cases,
Hunt remains in prison.
February 7, 2004: Darryl
Hunt Exonerated. Darryl Hunt's long imprisonment in
connection with the 1984
rape and murder of Deborah Sykes in Winston-Salem, NC was a case of
Another man killed her, the police and prosecutors have admitted. And
most importantly, that man acted alone. Unfortunately,
police and prosecutors were so thorough in inciting
hatred and a desire for revenge against Darryl Hunt in Deborah
Sykes' family that her mother and step-father refuse to accept Hunt's
innocence. Bitter Justice
so-called forensic identification sciences, including
microscopic hair analysis, handwriting identification, bite-mark
analysis, ballistics, and even fingerprints have also been under attack
in recent years. The Supreme Court, in its 1993 Daubert
established the “known rate of error” as one of the indicia of
scientific reliability. Yet courts continue to admit "ear witness
identification" and juries continue to convict innocent people
believing witnesses are much better at voice recognition than research
indicates. Falling on Deaf Ears
17 years in prison - most of it seeking DNA tests to prove his
innocence - Lonnie Erby walked free on August 25th because genetic
conclusively showed he had not committed two of the three rapes for
which he was convicted. His exoneration came despite strenuous
opposition by Circuit Attorney Jenniver Joyce, who argued the DNA
testing would cause unnecessary upheaval for victims and their
families and unneeded
expense. All three victims picked him out of a line up. Lonnie Erby
People think of memory as a videotape recording in the brain. But few people, if any, can reliably distinguish between memories of something they've been shown and something they've been asked to imagine. In fact, we assemble our memories by patching together broken pieces of stored information and then filling in the blanks. Now there is hope of a False Memory Detector
Dana Holland, 35,
was freed after a Cook County judge found
not guilty in a retrial on the 1993 attempted murder and armed robbery
a woman in Chicago. Holland had been
to that crime by a wallet found at the scene that had belonged to
woman, a rape victim. Holland was originally convicted of that rape,
DNA evidence exonerated him of it earlier this year. He had been
to more than 100 years in prison for both crimes and served 10 years.
The victim of the attempted murder testified against Holland
this week, identifying him in court. Eyewitnesses
in prison, DNA has cleared Michael Mercer of raping a 17-year-old girl.
victim saw Mercer 2 months after she was attacked and identified him as
assailant. She was certain, but she
MA, two rape victims identified Dennis Maher as their assailant.
19 years, Dennis protested his innocence. DNA tests have
his innocence and he has been freed. 126th
Of the 125
wrongly convicted persons exonerated by DNA, Marvin Anderson is the
only one where the real rapist was shown to the victim in the original
photo spread, and instead she picked an innocent man. Fallibility of Eyewitness Identication
In 1998, a
rape victim identified Josiah Sutton as one of her assailants when she
saw him on the street, and the Houston, Texas crime lab claimed DNA
tests implicated him. The crime lab has been shut down because of
the poor quality
of its work, and new DNA tests have excluded Josiah. 4 1/2 Years in Prison -- for Nothing
years ago, a rape victim in Hampton Roads, VA saw Julius Ruffin on an
elevator and insisted he was her attacker. After two mistrials,
he was convicted at a third trial and sentenced to five life terms.
Now he has been Cleared by DNA.
years after Terry Arndt was murdered and his girlfriend raped in Shasta
County, CA, the rape victim identified Thomas Brewster as the assailant
-- even though she failed to pick him out of a line up 6 days after the
The charges cost Brewster almost 2 years pre-trial in jail; DNA
cleared him 8 weeks into his capital murder trial. Now it's The System's Turn to Pay
KY financial advisor Troy Rufra was identified by four eyewitnesses as
the man who robbed an equal number of banks. The eyewitnesses
were sure. The problem? The
Eyewitnesses were Wrong
Webster spent 20 years in prison for raping a Baltimore, MD woman when
he was 19 years old. He was repeatedly denied parole because he
refused to admit his guilt. Now DNA has established Bernard's
innocence. The victim remains convinced of her identification of
him. 115th Person Freed by DNA
Could the witness really see what he thinks he could see?
Eyewitness Identification Expert Dr. Paul Michel could have the answer.
In 1984, Jennifer Thompson was brutally raped. She concentrated on memorizing her attacker's features. When she picked Ronald Cotton out of a line up, Jennifer says,
Gary Graham, executed by Texas despite serious doubts about his guilt.
Gary Graham was sentenced to death based solely on the identification of one eye witness. Two other eye witnesses who say the killer was not Graham were never heard at trial.
|Jump to "The Cotton Case" from our Links page for a riveting demonstration of just how wrong eyewitness identification can be.|