Eyewitness Identification
  
Eyewitness identification is 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!

Read about the real-life victims of faulty eyewitness identification and see what experts have to say on this subject.

Note:  We add 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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Tyrone Hicks
In 1998, a criminal dubbed "the Bronx rapist" terrorized the community.  The police sketch of him looked so much like Tyrone Hicks that his own parents turned him in.  A victim identified him, and Tyrone was convicted and served 10 years in prison.  Even after his release, he was determined to prove his innocence, and with the help of New York Law School’s Post-Conviction Innocence Clinic, he has done so.  DNA testing has demonstrated Tyrone is innocent.

Robert Nelson
In 1984, a rape victim's mistaken identification of Robert Nelson as her assailant resulted in a prison sentence of 58 years.  In 2012, DNA testing identified the rapist as Jerry Haley, and finally, in June, 2013, after another year in prison, Robert was freed and Jerry Haley was charged. 

Connecticut Defense Experts Can Question Eyewitness Testimony
According to scientific studies, what a person believes he or she is seeing during a high-stress situation -- such as a shooting or robbery -- may not be accurate. Increasingly, defense lawyers are asking judges to allow juries to hear expert witnesses explain such studies, in an attempt to discredit eyewitness testimony that may implicate their clients.  But getting judges to allow juries to hear from such experts has been a state-by-state, uphill battle.  Connecticut is one of the first states to open the door to such testimony.

In 1978, a student at William & Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia, was raped.  She identified Bennett Barbour as her assailant.  Barbour had a solid alibi; he did not match the suspect's description; he was eliminated on the basis of simple blood type tests; he has brittle bone disease; and he did not have a gun.  He was convicted solely on the basis of the victim's identification.  In 2010, he was cleared by DNA, but Virginia authorities waited another 18 months to notify him.  He's dying, and hopes his name will be officially cleared before he passes away.

Kerry Porter
Kerry Porter's conviction for the murder of Tyrone Camp in Louisville, KY in 1994 rested on the tainted identification of an eyewitness, the highly suspect claims of a jailhouse snitch, and the tunnelvision of police investigators.  Now police and prosecutors are investigating whether they got the wrong man and whether Porter has been locked away for a crime he didn’t commit.

New Rules in New Jersey
The New Jersey Supreme Court, acknowledging a “troubling lack of reliability in eyewitness identifications,” issued sweeping new rules on August 24, 2011 making it easier for defendants to challenge such evidence in criminal cases.  While many states have revamped the way police and courts handle eyewitness identification, most have left those convicted on that basis out in the cold, with no means to legally challenge their convictions.  What distinguishes the NJ ruling is that it offers a hand up to the wrongfully convicted.

He wasn't named Bill and he didn't look like anyone else in the line up, but in 1982, a traumatized child said he was the man who murdered her mother.  Rodney Lincoln had only family members for his alibi, and it wasn't enough to outweigh the single pubic hair from the murder scene that lab analysts said was "consistent" with his own.  Now, 29 years later, DNA testing proves that was not Rodney's hair.  He is hoping to die a free man.

UPDATE:  St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Robin Vannoy has scheduled a three-day hearing in September, 2013 to consider both sides. It will be the culmination of a seven-year battle under a state law that allows for post-conviction DNA testing in certain instances, and will be key to whether Lincoln’s convictions are overturned.


After almost 15 years in prison for another man's crime, Cody has finally been released -- at least, until the Brown County DA (Green Bay) can figure out some way to sandbag him again.  His conviction was overturned by the state court of appeals "in the interest of justice."  County investigators used every improper inducement to get the victim of a robbery and stabbing -- who had a .22% BAC at the time -- to pick Cody out of a photo line up.  If he is retried, it will be interesting to see what they can possibly use as evidence a second time around.

UPDATE:  August 10, 2011 -  After a year in limbo with a monitor on his leg, Cody accepted a plea deal.  In exchange for an Alford plea (which does not admit guilt) to being party to armed robbery and aggravated assault, Cody was sentenced to time served and set free.

Shawn Massey
A Charlotte, NC man wrongfully convicted of kidnapping and armed robbery is finally home after spending 12 years behind bars.  Shawn Massey, 37, was the victim of erroneous eyewitness identification, say researchers from Duke Law School, whose Wrongful Convictions Clinic and Innocence Project spent more than four years examining the case.

Claude Alvin Simmons Jr., 54, and Christopher Shun Scott, 39, were each sentenced to life in prison for the April 7, 1997, shooting death of Alfonso Aguilar during a home-invasion robbery in Dallas, TX. Their convictions were based primarily on the eyewitness testimony of Aguilar's wife, Celia Escobedo, who was present in their Love Field area home when the killing occurred.  That identification was mistaken, said Mike Ware, head of the Dallas County District Attorney's Conviction Integrity Unit.  They are the latest DNA exonerees in the Dallas DA's review of suspect cases.

Jamie Ray Vickers
Jamie Ray Vickers of Manatee, FL was at his mother's home when Roger Jones robbed a bank in Bradenton, FL.  But it was Jamie's driver's license photo that the bank manager picked out of a photo pack, and it was Jamie who was arrested, jailed, lost his job and faced life in prison.  Fortunately for Jamie, his family got him a lawyer immediately, and security video at Wal-Mart placed him miles away, with a full goatee, when the bank was robbed.

Victor Burnette
Victor Burnette of Richmond, VA was released from prison in 1987, after serving 8 years for a rape he always said he did not commit.  DNA has demonstrated Victor is innocent.  So far, he has waited two years for Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to act on his pardon application.  The Commonwealth's Attorney has no objection, but the rape victim remains convinced that Victor assaulted her.

lineup

A stunning 18 of the 19 Dallas, Texas convictions overturned by DNA were based on faulty eyewitness identification. 
The faulty identifications were the predictable consequences of a criminal justice system that ignored safeguards meant to protect the innocent. The files reveal a law-and-order machine that focused on securing and bolstering eyewitness testimony, regardless of the victim's doubt or the lack of corroborating evidence.

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.

Patrick Waller
DNA testing, two confessions and a polygraph test all show that Patrick Leondos Waller did not commit the robbery, kidnapping and rape for which he was blamed more than 15 years ago, Dallas county prosecutors and defense attorney Gary Udashen agree.   Patrick has been exonerated and released from prison, the 18th Dallas County, Texas convict cleared by DNA.  But one of the victims refuses to believe Patrick is innocent.  That's how deeply witnesses can come to believe their own faulty identifications.

After almost 26 years in prison, Walter Swift of Detroit, MI has been officially cleared of raping a pregnant mother who was surprised in her Indian Village home as she played with her infant child.  In a joint motion both the Innocence Project and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office asked Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Vera Massey Jones to set aside Swift’s conviction -- one based on what authorities now concede was a shaky identification.

Michael Disimo
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.

The case that Rachel Jernigan robbed a Gilbert, AZ bank was based on eyewitness identification.  After she was arrested, the robberies continued. Before she was tried, FBI agents knew Rachel bore a striking resemblance to Juanita 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.

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 unclear
"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.

Few 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.

Steven Phillips
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.

Derrick Bell
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.

Dwayne Allen Dail of Goldsboro, NC always said he was innocent. He always said he was not the man who raped a 12-year-old girl in September 1987.  He turned down a plea deal that would have put him on probation for 3 years because he knew he was innocent, and he refused to plead guilty to something he did not do.  But a jury believed the victim's eyewitness identification, tenuous and inconsistent as it was, and junk microscopic hair comparison testimony.  Now DNA has undone Dail's conviction, proving he was right all along--he is innocent, and now he is free.

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.

Reasonable Doubts

Frederick Freeman sits in a Michigan prison, sentenced to life, for a small-town murder 20 years ago. A team of advocates, from former FBI agents to a veteran TV newsman, says he was railroaded while the real killer remains free. 

In a remarkable series published in the Detroit Metro Times,
Sandra Svoboda explores the first investigation, years of re-investigation, and the crucial role of eyewitness identification.

Part I
Eyewitness to What?
Part II


'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.

Charles T. "Ted" Dubbs was convicted of sexually assaulting two women in Dauphin County, PA in 2000 and 2001.  Both women identified him as their attacker.  Wilbur Cyrus Brown, II has been convicted of a series of similar attacks, and has confessed to the two attacks Dubbs was convicted of committing.  Did the eyes deceive?
Charles Dubbs in 1999
Dubbs in 1999
composite sketch
Composite Sketch
Wilbur Cyrus Brown, II in 2001
Brown in 2001

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.

Jerry Miller
In 1981, Jerry Miller was pulled off the street in Chicago, IL and picked out of a line up by a rape victim.  At trial, Miller was convicted of rape, robbery, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated battery.  In 2007, he became the 200th person to be exonerated by DNA.  That same DNA matched the DNA of an offender in the FBI's Codis DNA database, which became operational in 1998.  That means the real criminal not only got away with the 1981 rape, but that he committed at least one more crime that put him into the Codis database.

On the 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.

Anthony Capozzi of Buffalo, NY, an innocent man who has been in prison for almost 22 years after being wrongly convicted of two Delaware Park rapes, was exonerated March 29, 2007 by DNA evidence — evidence that had been stored in a cabinet at Erie County Medical Center for as long as he has been behind bars.  Capozzi, who resembled Altemio Sanchez, identified through the same DNA testing as the perpetrator of the attacks, had been convicted based on the testimony of the rape victims, who had picked him out of police lineups.

Analysis: The Wrongful Conviction of Anthony Capozzi: The Hindsight of DNA Technology by William J. Morgan, Jr.

Antonio Beaver was convicted in 1997 in the carjacking of a woman near the St. Louis, MO Arch the year before. The robber, wielding a screwdriver, was stabbed during a struggle with the victim.  Blood inside her car was not Beaver's, according to recent DNA test results. Prosecutors said the sample had not been tested before trial because it was too small for the technology of the day.  Beaver's ordeal began when the carjacking victim described a man with a baseball cap and gap in his front teeth. Six days later, a St. Louis police officer noticed Beaver on the street and thought he fit the description. Beaver voluntarily participated in a line-up.  The victim picked him from among four men.

Could this man be the Blue Ridge parkway rapist?

Authorities in Nelson County, Virginia are investigating the circumstantial case against Michael Nicholaou, now dead by suicide, in a 1984 rape.   Edward Honaker was convicted of the rape and served 10 years in prison before his DNA exoneration.

"Folks, everybody is human, everybody is subject to making mistakes. A mistaken identity is what we are talking about here today." - Kenneth Farrar, Honaker's defense attorney, to jury at trial.
Michael Nicholaou
Michael Nicholaou
Brutal Assault, Mistaken Identity
A Life of Heroism and Violence

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."

Napoleon Cardenas
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.

North Carolina Gov. Mike Easley has pardoned a Sanford man who spent more than five years in prison for a 1998 armed robbery in Goldsboro.  There was no physical evidence against Steve Snipes, only testimony that the masked robber of the convenience store sounded like Snipes trying to disguise his voice.  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.

DNA evidence has cleared an Atlanta, GA man who has served 21 years in prison after being convicted of raping and kidnapping a woman at a Sandy Springs apartment complex in 1985, the man's lawyers said on January 19, 2007.   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
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. 

On the morning of Sept. 19, 1992, a man named Leonard Aquino stood with another man in front of a building in Woodside, NY. He was approached by a couple of men who spoke briefly, then opened fire. Mr. Aquino was killed; another man, Paul Peralta, was shot, but survived.  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 Fuller
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.

Nine years after he was convicted of rape and burglary and 11 years after his arrest, DNA tests have cleared Allen Coco's name and record.  The 38-year-old Louisiana man had insisted since his arrest in 1995 that he was innocent. The 28-year-old victim had chosen his picture from a photo lineup.

Link
The Pathetic Legal Cases Against Jerry L. Parker

Stuart 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.

A man imprisoned for more than 18 years for kidnapping and raping a woman was released after new forensic tests showed evidence from the crime did not match his DNA.  James Calvin Tillman, 44, told his family he wanted to take a quiet walk and watch the squirrels play for the first time since 1989, when he was convicted and sentenced to 45 years in prison.  Tillman was 26 when he was charged with abducting a woman as she got into her car near a Hartford, CT restaurant, then beating and raping her at a nearby housing project.  The victim picked out Tillman from a series of photos and he was convicted.

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 Rodrigues
Shaun 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.

Rodrigues Conviction Hardly Convincing
State Supreme Court Affirms Conviction

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.

David Hansen
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.

Luis Diaz
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 Dominguez
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.

Thirty 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.

Mistaken eyewitness identification is the major reason innocent people have been sent to prison in Virginia, a two-year study of 11 wrongful convictions concludes. Preventing such tragedies could be as simple as changing police procedures or as expensive as improving the quality of legal help given poor people in Virginia, which pays court-appointed lawyers the lowest fees in the nation.

In May 1981, when Michael Williams was 16, a jury in Jonesboro, LA rejected his claim of innocence, deliberating for less than an hour before convicting him of the savage beating and sexual assault of his math tutor.  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.

The victim, shot while riding on the back of her husband's motorcycle in South Florida, identified someone else as her assailant.  The best-positioned eyewitness was unable to pick out Persad from a photo lineup; he, too, picked someone else.  He couldn't identify him in court, either.  The same eyewitness said there was nothing unusual about the assailant's car, while Persad's car had foreign slogans written all over it.  Moreover, three witnesses testified Persad was studying for an exam with them when the incident happened.  But the victim's husband was shown a photo of Persad by an ex-FBI investigator, told Persad was the assailant, identified him in court -- and Persad is doing 43 years in prison.

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.

Arthur Lee Whitfield spent part of his first hours of freedom standing up on the bus that carried him home. Whitfield was released from prison after DNA tests exonerated him of raping two women in Ghent, VA in August 1981.  He had served 22 years of a 63-year sentence.  Whitfield had little to say to the investigator who helped convict him, or to the two women who at trial said they were sure he was the man who had raped them.  “It would be nice for them to say they made a mistake,” he said. “It takes a big person to say they made a mistake.”

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.

Victims who get a good long look at violent criminals are unlikely to identify them accurately later, Yale and U.S. Navy researchers have found. This caveat follows from a unique study of 509 Navy and Marine officers undergoing elite survival training at Fort Bragg, N.C. Results suggest that police and juries may give eyewitness testimony too much credibility.

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

When 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 despite 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 mistaken identity. 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

Other 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 decision, 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

After 17 years in prison - most of it seeking DNA tests to prove his innocence - Lonnie Erby walked free on August 25th because genetic testing 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 him not guilty in a retrial on the 1993 attempted murder and armed robbery of a woman in Chicago.  Holland had been linked to that crime by a wallet found at the scene that had belonged to another woman, a rape victim. Holland was originally convicted of that rape, but DNA evidence exonerated him of it earlier this year. He had been sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for both crimes and served 10 years.  The victim of the attempted murder testified against Holland again this week, identifying him in court. Eyewitnesses Rarely Concede Error

After 11 years in prison, DNA has cleared Michael Mercer of raping a 17-year-old girl.  The victim saw Mercer 2 months after she was attacked and identified him as her assailant.  She was certain, but she was wrong

In 1983, in Lowell, MA, two rape victims identified Dennis Maher as their assailant.  For 19 years, Dennis protested his innocence.  DNA tests have confirmed his innocence and he has been freed.  126th DNA Exoneration

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

Over 21 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.

Eleven 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 attack.  The charges cost Brewster almost 2 years pre-trial in jail; DNA tests cleared him 8 weeks into his capital murder trial.  Now it's The System's Turn to Pay

Louisville, 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

 Bernard 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

In 1984, Larry Johnson of St. Louis, MO was sentenced to life plus 30 years for the rape, sodomy, kidnapping and robbery of a college student.  His conviction was based primarily on the victim's identification of him.  Fast forward to February, 2002.  Broken waterpipes in the courthouse led to discovery of the original rape kit.  DNA Exonerates Larry Johnson 
 
  Faulty eyewitness identification and coerced confessions are two of the leading factors in the conviction of innocent people for crimes they did not committ.  Yet two simple measures could go a long way toward ensuring that findings of criminal guilt are genuine.  True Confessions
 
Nicholas Mobley was locked up for 29 days before murder charges against him were dropped.  He is no longer considered a suspect in that slaying, according to police who have acknowledged for the first time that the man's picture was mistakenly picked out of a photo lineup by 5 witnesses.  Eyewitness ID Strikes Out Again
 
Richard Alexander and Anthony Robinson have a lot in common.  Both were convicted of rape based on eyewitness identification.  Both served long stretches in prison.  Both were innocent and were exonerated by DNA.  Each is responding to the injustice done him in his own way.

Richard Alexander Sues South Bend, Indiana Police

Anthony Robinson Studies Law

 
Children are the most suggestible of witnesses, particularly when the perpetrator of a ghastly, traumatic crime bears a strong physical resemblance to someone they know.  Clarence Elkins of Magnolia, Ohio was convicted of rape and murder four 4 years ago because his niece -- who was six years old at the time -- made just such an error.  She has now identified another man as her grandmother's killer, a man who bears a striking resemblance to her uncle.  Will the Court Admit Error?

UPDATE:  Judge Grants Request for Hearing on New DNA Evidence in Elkins Case
 
Iowa State University psychology professor Gary Wells, who has written extensively on the subject, says unfounded eyewitness identifications are the greatest single cause of wrongful convictions.  Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman examines what we can do to protect against Our Lyin' Eyes.
 
Meet Michael Kenneth McAlister of Richmond, VA.  He's the victim of mistaken identity by the victim of attempted rape.  Even the investigator and prosecutor who put him in prison doubt his guilt.  They went to the parole board in support of his release, but this is Virginia so the parole board denied McAlister's bid.  He is Without Hope

In 1986, a masked man attempted to rape a young mother in Richmond, VA.  She was the first victim.  Kenneth McAlister looked a lot like the would-be rapist.  He was the second victim.  McAlister served 18 years in prison for a crime in which he had no part.  He was denied parole and pardon even though the detective who arrested him and the prosecutor who charged him went to bat for him, admitted their mistake and said they believe he is innocent.  He was released on mandatory parole.  Mandatory Freedom
 
In 1988, EPA agent David Delitta was murdered in a Houston, TX street robbery.  The surviving robbery victim helped police work up a composite of the killer, and a detective thought he recognized Anibal Rousseau.  Six months later Rousseau was on Death Row, swift and simple as that.  Except Rousseau didn't commit the crime.  The murder weapon -- in police custody when Anibal was tried -- was traced to another man with a history of robbery and no connection to Rousseau.  But Rousseau is Still On Death Row.
 
Frank Green of the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch examines the most infamous faulty eyewitness identification case of our times -- Ronald Cotton -- and compares it with numerous similar cases that have come to light recently.  He concludes: The Eyes Don't Have It
 
Richard Alexander of South Bend, Indiana was arrested in August of 1996, charged with a series of rapes, convicted of two of them and sentenced in 1998 to 70 years in prison.  Police said they had a "gut feeling" Richard was innocent, but went forward on the basis of eyewitness identification.  The attacks continued after Richard's arrest, so more than "gut feeling" may have been involved.  The real rapist has confessed and DNA has excluded Richard.  The witnesses were certain.  The Witnesses were Mistaken
 
In 1982 a victim of abduction and rape picked Marvin Lamont Anderson from a photo spread and in a police lineup. The photo was obtained from his employer and was different from the other photos in the spread, one of Anderson's lawyers has said. Also, none of the men used in the photo spread was in the police lineup.  In 1988, another man confessed to the crime, but a judge rejected his confession.  Now Anderson has been Cleared by DNA
 
Incorrect eyewitness testimony convicted most of those cleared by DNA over the past several years.
Eyes Might Not Have It
Could This Happen to Your Spouse or Child? Freeing the Innocent
Cross-Racial Identification
Articles, Case Histories, TV and Radio Clips, and More from one of the top US experts in eyewitness identification.
Gary L. Wells, Ph.D.

Could the witness really see what he thinks he could see?
Eyewitness Identification Expert Dr. Paul Michel could have the answer. 
Eyewitness Expert



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, 

"I was Certain, But I was Wrong"


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.

Graham Jurors Urge New Trial

Jump to "The Cotton Case" from our Links page for a riveting demonstration of just how wrong eyewitness identification can be.
Truth in Justice

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 









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