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Eyewitness Testimony

The uncertainty of "Certain Identification"

Eyewitness Testimony

In this post on themarshallproject.org, Penny Beerstein, the Rape Victim in Making a Murderer gives a statement regarding her participation in the original trial of Steven Avery, who was later exonerated by DNA evidence and the subsequent prosecution of the actual attacker.

I’m sorry. I have no sympathy for this woman. She looked a jury and Steven Avery in the eye and said, “I KNOW it was HIM who did it. I paid particular attention to his face. I KNOW it is him.” That kind of testimony is not a “mistake” it is a death sentence. It didn’t matter that Steven had multiple people testify to him not being near where the assault took place. One well-spoken, well-off white woman sent this guy to the unspeakable horror of a cage for 18 years. She owes him his life, and she wouldn’t even give him money. She can say her feelings for Mr. Avery are as complicated as she wants, but the fact remains, that SHE, and SHE alone, was responsible for his incarceration. If she was honest and said, I really don’t know which one it was, maybe a rapist would have gone free (which is what happened anyway), but at least she wouldn’t have sent an innocent man to prison.

Trials are not jokes. Trials are not places to say what you think a jury or a judge or a DA wants to hear. If you are unsure of what you saw…say so. If you don’t really remember, say so. Too many people (cops included), get on a stand and testify when they don’t really remember. They say they recognize my client from a year and a half ago, even though they really don’t. They regurgitate facts that are on the report that they reviewed right before court, even though they have little independent recollection of the incident. It is infuriating. Just tell the truth. The WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth. If that means a guilty person goes free…that sucks, but it also help ensure that innocent people don’t go to prison.

Eyewitness misidentification is a part of 70% of DNA exonerations (link).Think about that. In SEVENTY PERCENT of exonerations someone got on the stand and said they saw someone do something that was completely false. And this is only in cases where there is DNA to disprove the testimony. In reality, very few cases have DNA. So think of the THOUSANDS or even TENS OF THOUSANDS of cases where people have been behind bars on just the word of an eyewitness. It is a national tragedy.