Mistaken Identification is the Number One Factor
Leading to Wrongful Convictions!
Of the first 77 wrongful convictions overturned by DNA evidence,
65 resulted from witness error.
CASE STUDY: Ronald Cotton
In July of 1984 Jennifer Thompson of North Carolina was threatened
with a knife and raped in her apartment by an unknown assailant.
Determined that she would survive the attack and would see to it
that the rapist went to prison, she studied his features: his hairline,
voice, mannerisms, weight and height.
She helped the police with a composite sketch following the attack.
A few days later she selected a picture of Ronald Cotton from a photo
array of seven to eight photographs at the police station. The police
confirmed her choice with the words "We thought this might be the one
" Still later she identified Ronald Cotton from a physical lineup.
Her selection of Mr. Cotton was less than certain, as she at first wavered between him and another individual in the lineup. But after identifying
Mr. Cotton, the police assured her with the statement
"That's the one you picked out in the photo."
Over time Ms. Thompson's confidence in her identification grew.
In fact, through the course of the trial and years later, she stated
that every time she relived the night of the rape, she saw
Ronald Cotton's image in her mind.
Mr. Cotton was given a life sentence.
Nearly eleven years later, when DNA evidence exonerated
Mr. Cotton and proved the guilt of a man by the name of
Bobby Poole, Jennifer Thompson said that she would still see
Ronald Cotton's face, and not Bobby Poole's, whenever she thought
of the rape. She had difficulty erasing Ronald Cotton's image from
her memories of that traumatic night, despite the conclusive
scientific evidence that Bobby Poole was the actual rapist.
The jurors gave considerable weight to Jennifer Thompson's
eyewitness account. She was a very determined 22-year-old woman,
a college student with a 4.0 grade point average. Her testimony was
also viewed as credible because she had studied her attacker's
features for several minutes. She was absolutely certain
that she had accurately identified the rapist.
Jennifer Thompson's experience has been duplicated again and
again by incredible amounts of research in the field of eyewitness
identification. Ms. Thompson's assertion that she saw images of
Ronald Cotton whenever she thought about the rape is known by
psychologists as "unconscious transference." This is the mistaken
identification of a person who was seen in one setting with another
person who was seen in a different setting. Through the photo spread,
lineup, and trial, Ms. Thompson's mind incorporated
Ronald Cotton into her memories of the rape.
The fact that Ms. Thompson was confident at the trial with her
identification of Mr. Cotton was not at all indicative of her reliability
as a witness. She had been told by the police that she had selected
a photo of their suspect, and her identification had been confirmed
by the police following the lineup. Research demonstrates that
eyewitnesses' confidence in their memories of a crime will often become
stronger over time, even when those memories are entirely erroneous.
In addition, research in eyewitness identification involving strangers
shows that 1)The presence of a gun, knife or other weapon reduces
the reliability of eyewitness accounts. During a crime, witnesses are
more likely to focus on any weapon than on the culprit's characteristics.
2)Memory is not stored like a videotape. Memory can be altered
over time without one being aware of the transformation. 3)Stress can
cause inaccurate memories to be stored at the time of the crime.
In crimes staged by researchers, eyewitnesses have been known
to significantly confuse the characteristics, words, and actions of the "perpetrator."
4)When selecting a picture from a police officer's
photo spread, eyewitnesses often assume that he police already
know who committed the crime and that the real culprit's photograph
is included. 5)There is a significant decrease in memory
of an assailant's features twenty-four hours after a crime.
Click here to learn more about Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton.
Gary Wells, PhD, Prof. at Iowa State Univ., is an expert
in Eyewitness Identification. Click here to learn more.
Wrongful Convictions---Our Nation’s Disgrace”
By: Grace Elting Castle, CLI ®
(114) Who Have
Been Released from Death Row Since 1973
Samuel A. Poole
Charles Ray Giddens
Clifford Henry Bowen
Joseph Green Brown
Darby (Williams) Tillis
John Henry Knapp
Anthony Ray Peek
Richard Neal Jones
Randall Dale Adams
Jesse Keith Brown
John C. Skelton
Jimmy Lee Mathers
Bradley P. Scott
Jay C. Smith
Federico M. Macias
Gregory R. Wilhoit
Troy Lee Jones
Ricardo Aldape Guerra
Robert Lee Miller, Jr.
Clarence Dexter, Jr.
Warren Douglas Manning
Joseph Nahume Green
Frank Lee Smith
Joaquin Jose Martinez
Juan Roberto Melendez
Thomas Kimbell, Jr.
Gary Lamar James
Below are some individuals who have been released
from death row because of innocence who are not
included in the official list by the
Death Penalty Information Center
(due to strict
Kerry Max Cook
Due to strict policies??? Why
such strict policies?
Why are we continuing the abuse? Who does this serve?
Being kept in the dark through this pernicious action
adds insult to injury as innocence still
has no voice!
This is unconstitutional!!!!