Butler was later exonerated by DNA testing. Reporter Rebecca Schleicher posed the question:His name was cleared after spending more than 16 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit.
The victim picked him out of a lineup and told police she thought he was her rapist and kidnapper. On the stand, A.B. can recall her lack of conviction.
"She said I looked like the person that did it. That I was awfully close but she wasn't sure."
Unfortunately for A.B., the shaky testimony was enough to put him away.
Regular readers know both the Texas House and the Senate have approved versions of legislation to require law enforcement agencies to enact policies for live and photo lineups based on well-established best practices. But one of those bills must be approved by the second chamber before it heads to the Governor for his signature. There's still time for the legislation to pass, and the fact that both chambers have already approved the idea is an encouraging sign. But the legislation also appeared to be in good shape in 2009 before the House of Representatives melted down over the Voter ID debate, and there are plenty of issues (the budget, Congressional redistricting, etc.) that could cause the same thing to happen this time around. Good intentions are fine, but the road to hell is paved with them. Meanwhile, there's little doubt false convictions are still being secured based on erroneous witness IDs, and every day the Lege delays requiring reform makes it that much more likely more people will be falsely accused. Time to pass this sucker and start the process of implementing best practices for lineup procedures at local law-enforcement agencies.How is it that so many witnesses name the wrong person? The problem is memory: it often has holes and it's easy to manipulate what you're sure you saw.
"Our ability to remember perceptual details like what somebody looks like is not very good," said memory expert Dr. Charles Weaver.
He specializes in witness identification, and has testified in many cases on the subject. He says our memories only record bits and pieces of what happen, and he gave me a test to prove it.
He showed me a video by Gary Wells that gives viewers a glimpse of a fake crime. Then asked me to pick out who did it, showing six similar-featured men.
I picked out the first man in the group, who turned out to be innocent. Weaver then told me that none of the men were in fact the criminal I witnessed, but he isn't surprised at my choice.
"When I asked you who did it, there's this belief that it's got to be one of the six."
Research shows that when the options are on the table, witnesses make comparisons and pick out the closest-featured person to what they recall.