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Student Case Update: Can an Identification a Year After a Crime be Accurate?

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A dark alley, late at night in Beaver County, a man is robbed at gunpoint, flees and turns to witness the gunman turn on his friend and shoot him dead in the street.dark alley

Three years later a young man is convicted of the crime despite maintaining his innocence and despite minimal evidence to support a conviction. With no physical or DNA evidence to connect the young man, the Commonwealth relied on the eyewitness identification of the first victim who fled, who admitted to having been “a little high” at the time and to having had several drinks just prior to the murder. Furthermore, this eyewitness gave inconsistent descriptions of the gunman throughout his statements and in his testimony at trial, and admits to being more focused on the gun pointed at him, than on the gunman’s face. His identification of this young man was made off a photo array a year following the murder.

Though the young man presented two alibi witnesses, neither could honestly recall the events of one specific, unremarkable night three years before. Nor could they say conclusively that the young man was with them on the night in question. The Commonwealth presented a witness of its own to refute defense’s alibi. This witness knew the young man from having lived together in Beaver County for several weeks, and had previously falsely accused the young man of having robbed him. This witness came forward a year after the murder, while incarcerated, to state that the young man had, in fact, been in Beaver County the night of the murder. This same witness, days after testifying, was granted parole without ever having formally requested it.

The case against this young man has many holes, not the least of which is the two incredible Commonwealth witnesses. Also, there were several other eyewitnesses to the crime who were never brought up at trial or interviewed by the defense, and multiple other, credible leads of potential suspects that were given to the police time and time again and never pursued.

Investigation of these other leads and eyewitnesses leave open potential investigative avenues for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, despite the lack of any potential for DNA testing. There are many strong doubts at this time as to the young man’s guilt, and his innocence claim is compelling. This case is currently proceeding to the investigation phase.

— Olivia Moorhead; Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel University – Class of 2015

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