Both happened in Galveston recently to Aundre Parish, a man falsely accused of committing a sexual assault. In fact, he'd been working on an offshore oil rig at the time and police had obtained records (that they did not share with the defendant) that proved Parish's whereabouts.
Then in April, DNA evidence also cleared Parish as a suspect, but still he remained in jail. (He has fired his original attorney for not immediately seeking his release when the DNA results came in.) Indeed, as of Friday Parish's case was still set for trial in October, though prosecutors indicated to the Daily News they're likely to dismiss it
So this poor fellow can prove he was on an offshore oil rig when the attack occurred, and DNA at the scene wasn't his - how could officials keep Mr. Parish locked up? Perhaps a better question: Why would they? Every day they fiddle around with him, the real rapist remains on the loose.
As it turns out, the wrongful accusations against Parish stem from faulty victim eyewitness testimony. Police used outdated photo array techniques that experts say contribute to wrongful convictions. Reported the Daily News ("Records don't free innocent man," Aug. 26):
Police detective Sgt. Joel Caldwell showed the woman a lineup of six photographs days after the attack, when the woman was “in a great deal of pain and was under the influence of heavy pain killers,” according to Caldwell’s report on the investigation.So let's walk through this. Officers showed the woman the photo array the first time and she did not identify Parish nor anyone else. Then several days later they show it to her again and she says she recognizes Parish (whose picture she was shown on the day of her attack), but his physical appearance does not match her very specific description (a tattoo of "Sweet Pea" on his neck).
Days later, on Jan. 9, Caldwell again showed the woman the lineup, as she “was much more lucid and alert,” the report states.
This time, she looked at the pictures for minutes before “she began to shake and then stated, ‘My God, that’s him,’” pointing out Parish.
Parish’s picture had made it onto the picture lineup because the woman had originally said her attacker had a tattoo reading “Sweet Pea” on his neck.
“Sweet Pea” was Parish’s childhood nickname. However, the only tattoos on his neck contained the names of his mother and grandmother, neither of whom was known as “Sweet Pea.”
Three pieces of evidence - his work logs, DNA, and the fact that his tattoo didn't match the witness' description - should have told any reasonable investigator that Parish didn't commit this crime. Aundre Parish spent months in jail accused of a rape he didn't commit for two reasons: Faulty eyewitness identification procedures encouraged a victim to falsely accuse him, then the justice system took the word of the eyewitness - the victim, in this case - over hard evidence in their possession that contradicted her word.
Faulty eyewitness testimony is the leading national cause of wrongful convictions, and researchers have developed evidence-based best practices for lineups and witness identification procedures that few if any Texas departments presently follow.
The Texas Senate this year approved legislation to establish a panel to recommend statewide best practices for eyewitness identification procedures, and also an Innocence Commission to more comprehensively address the causes of wrongful convictions and to investigate possible innocence cases. But both bills died in the House, at the end of the day, because of a lack of enthusiasm by House leadership and opposition from the prosecutors' association.
Parish's case shows that eyewitness procedures don't just need to be studied, they need to be reformed as soon as possible. I'd suggested earlier that reforming eyewitness identification procedures would make a good, important, "interim study" for some Texas legislative committee, and I still hope somebody steps up to the plate.
What was wrong with the lineup that resulted in the false identification of Mr. Parish? For starters, witnesses shouldn't be shown the same photo twice. Of course she'd seen Parish before - police previously showed her his picture while she was medicated and groggy.
And who were the others in the lineup? Were they non-suspects, as a best-practices model would dictate, or were the others possible suspects, too, so that anyone she picked was a "winner"?
The best research on this topic indicates sequential lineups are more accurate than "arrays," because the witness has a chance to say yes or no on each person, while the array makes them think "it's one of them" and try to pick the one that looks most like what they remember.
Parish's case reminds me of the three-legged, one-eyed dog named "Lucky." For someone who went through such an ordeal, Mr. Parish was "lucky." How many of us could prove we were physically inaccessible - with helicopter flight logs and time sheets to prove it - for every single day? I sure couldn't. What's more, he's "lucky" there was DNA evidence from the attacker to test against - if there hadn't been, it could just be her word against his.
Even with this pile of exculpatory evidence, prosecutors still kept Parish locked up months. They simply believed the victim's word over his, despite the plain facts before them. Anyone who thinks only Dallas has a problem with convicting innocent people, or that the problems causing innocent people to wind up in Texas prisons have been solved, has another think coming. Police and prosecutors could easily have railroaded Aundre Parish into a conviction.