Thursday, April 9, 2015

Unlikely team attempting to reform eyewitness identification program

Like a walk down memory lane... "I served 31 years."

Men - remembering time they'll never get back. "21 years."

What do they have in common?

All of these men were wrongly convicted, putting them behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.
"I served 20 years in the Department of Corrections.”

 All of these men have heart wrenching stories, but none received the national attention of the evening's key note speaker - Ronald Cotton.

 In 1984 - he was accused of sexually assaulting Jennifer Thompson-Cannico, a college student at the time. When she described the offender's appearance to police, it seemed to match Ron's, whose mug shot was on file from run-ins with the law. Police put him in a line-up with 6 others, and Jennifer identified him as the attacker because it was the closest match to the sketch the investigator drew from her description. 

Ron spent 11 years in prison until a DNA test proved he wasn't the offender.

"We both met. I asked if he could forgive me, and he immediately, without hesitation, said he'd already done that years before." That's when Jennifer and Ron started their journey to reform the eyewitness identification process, by telling their story at events around the country. They were invited to Springfield on Wednesday by the Innocence Project, a public policy organization that, in the past 4 years, has helped 5 men find freedom after wrongful convictions.

To date, more than 300 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by DNA testing.

Cotton and Thompson-Cannico were the guest speakers at the 8th annual Defenders of the Innocent event, hosted by the Illinois Innocence Project, based at the University of Illinois Springfield.

This story appeared online on WAND-TV on April 8, 2015.

Watch the story online.