Bringing New Statistical Approaches to Eyewitness Evidence

Authored by: Alice J. Liu , Karen Kafadar , Brandon L. Garrett , Joanne Yaffe

Handbook of Forensic Statistics

Print publication date:  November  2020
Online publication date:  November  2020

Print ISBN: 9781138295407
eBook ISBN: 9780367527709
Adobe ISBN:

10.1201/9780367527709-21

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Abstract

In July 1984, Jennifer Thompson was sexually assaulted by an assailant, who, later that night, sexually assaulted a second woman. Thompson helped create the composite sketch that led to the assembly of a live line-up in which she positively identified Ronald Cotton as the perpetrator. “Yeah. This is the one… I think this is the guy,” said Thompson at the live line-up (Garrett, 2012). A second line-up was assembled, with Cotton as the only repeated person. “This looks the most like him,” Thompson confirms, stating that she was “absolutely sure” Cotton was the culprit. Cotton was convicted of sexual assault and burglary based on circumstantial evidence and Thompson’s identification. He was sentenced to life in prison plus 54 years. In 1995, after 10 years in prison, Cotton was exonerated through DNA testing with help from the Innocence Project. * This is a particularly well-known example of a common problem. In 360+ post-conviction DNA exonerations documented by the Innocence Project since 1989, approximately 71% of these exonerations involved one or more mistaken eyewitness identifications.

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