In what is becoming routine, another conviction was reversed this past week in New York, this one too based on the eyewitness testimony of 5 individuals. This, though, isn’t the usual case of mistaken ID nor is it a DNA exoneration.
Convicted of murder in 1992, Fernando Bermudez has wrongly been in jail for 17 years. Interestingly, it took only a year from his conviction for the eyewitnesses to recant citing police and prosecutorial pressure and manipulation:
A year after Mr. Bermudez’s 1992 conviction, five witnesses who had identified him as the killer at trial recanted, saying in sworn affidavits that, they were coerced or manipulated by the police and prosecutors to identify Mr. Bermudez as the killer. Several of those witnesses reiterated their recantations in September at a hearing before Justice Cataldo.
Not only that, but all 5 testified at the most recent hearing that they viewed his mugshot as a group and discussed his likeness to the killer: a big no-no in photo array identifications. All the science in this field shows that we have a tendency to compare pictures to each other and to what we think the suspect looks like and pick the one that most closely resembles the person sought to be identified, instead of picking the person who actually is. If you don’t believe me, try this simple test from expert Gary Wells‘ website.
In his 79-page decision, Justice Cataldo wrote that Mr. Bermudez’s rights were violated because the police had allowed prosecution witnesses to view Mr. Bermudez’s mug shot as a group and to discuss his resemblance to the killer. Justice Cataldo also found that the prosecution should have known before sentencing that one of its cooperating witnesses, Efraim Lopez — a teenager whom Mr. Blount had punched at the club — had given false testimony.
But that doesn’t deter prosecutors. In fact, they’re so wedded to the notion that once a conviction is obtained it must be defended at all costs – and certainly one where the reversal is based in part on misbehavior by one of their own – that they utter nonsense like the following: Continue reading