NewsChannel 11 Investigates Eyewitness ID - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

3/9/09

NewsChannel 11 Investigates Eyewitness ID

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If you were an eyewitness to a crime, do you think you could pick out the perpetrator from a lineup? NewsChannel 11 Investigates tests the accuracy of eyewitness identification.

Timothy Cole's family knows all too well how important it is for an eyewitness to get it right. In 1986, a jury wrongly convicted Cole of raping a Texas Tech student. He died while serving a 25 year prison sentence. Cole was identified by the rape victim in a police lineup. However, last year, DNA from the crime scene cleared him.

After seeing purse snatching, do you think you could pick the right guy from a police lineup? NewsChannel 11's investigative reporter Nicole Pesecky put over 70 Texas Tech law students to that very test.

If you had to identify a suspect in a line up, could you? In our experiment, Texas Tech evidence law professor Angela Laughlin and NewsChannel 11 teamed up and executed a purse snatching.

The students entered the lecture hall one by one, unaware they were about to become eyewitnesses to a crime. We told them we were there covering a story about what it's like to be law students. We decided it was best not to hire a real bad guy, so we got our news director, Benji Snead, to do the dirty work.

We wanted to make this test as bona fide as possible, so we went to visit the professionals. We sat down with investigators with the Lubbock County Sheriff's office to see how they build a suspect lineup and created one for our investigation.

Next it was time for the crime. Our suspect walks into the classroom, steals the purse and flees the room. During the experiment one brave student sitting in the back of the class even grabbed Benji's arm, attempting to catch the purse snatcher. We then asked the class to write down everything they could remember about what went down. 

The results showed an outstanding 32 students chose suspect 2, and 20 of them were more than 50% certain. Four students chose suspect 1, three of whom more than 50% sure. Four chose suspect 3, nine students thought it was suspect 4, and eight thought it was suspect 6. And 10 students either couldn't identify the perp or believed he was not in the lineup. As for the actual suspect, only six students chose our news director, suspect 5, and not one of them was more than 50% sure of their answer.

"The interesting thing is number 5, who it ending up being, I said wasn't it for sure. I probably had the best view out of anybody in the classroom," Taylor explains. Even the professor was incorrect, "truthfully he was right next to me and I had no clue which one it was. I thought it was number 6."

So how accurate is eyewitness id? In this case only 8 percent accurate - not good odds when your freedom is at stake.

If you want to become a better eyewitness, investigators say to look for:

  • height
  • weight
  • eye color
  • hair color
  • and look for tattoos

NewsChannel 11 Investigates
NewsChannel 11 is digging deeper than just the news of the day, bringing you stories that no one else will do.

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