Jerry Lee Evans matched the description of the man who abducted and raped a woman in Deep Ellum in 1986. He even had a similar speech impediment.
But today Evans, 47, is expected to walk out of the courtroom a free man because DNA testing shows he is not the man who raped an 18-year-old Southern Methodist University freshman at knifepoint.
As science has discovered more about how eyewitnesses really identify suspects, it's become clear, as the Justice Project's Edwin Colfax likes to say, that eyewitness testimony should be considered more like "trace" evidence which shoddy or biased collection methods can easily contaminate. That's what happened in this instance, said the News:
Dallas County prosecutors Tuesday pointed to questionable witness identification procedures as a leading reason for his wrongful conviction.
When the woman looked at a six-picture photo spread, Dallas police officers "were leading and encouraging" her to pick Evans out of the photo lineup, said Mike Ware, who oversees the DA's conviction integrity unit. Officers were also "enthusiastically encouraging" after the woman selected Evans.
The Dallas Police Department changed its policies this year in an attempt to eliminate intentional or unintentional encouragement of witnesses through words or body language. Now, photo lineups are shown by an officer not involved in the case and are shown sequentially.
Given that most Texas departments have no written policies on the topic, more law enforcement agencies need to follow Dallas' lead and create written procedures for photo lineups that require blind administration and other best practices.