Mistaken Witness
Identification of
Masked Assailants

17 Cases

Jefferson County, AL

Ronnie & Dale Mahan

Nov 30, 1983

Ronnie and Dale Mahan were convicted of kidnapping and raping 18-year-old Pamela Pope. Pope identified the brothers from a photo lineup. She said she got a look at the perpetrators when they lifted their masks. The Mahans were sentenced to life and 35 years respectively. Ronnie and Dale spent more than 12 years in prison before DNA tests exonerated them in 1998.  (IP1) (IP2) (CT)  [12/05]

Los Angeles County, CA

James Preston

Oct 18, 1924

James W. Preston was convicted of robbing a Los Angeles widow and shooting her when she tried to escape. The victim, Mrs. Dick R. Parsons lived at 906 W. 50th St. The perpetrator had entered through a first floor window, and on the dust of the screen, fingerprints were found. Preston was arrested on a minor charge a few days after the crime. His fingerprints were compared with those found on the screen, but did not match. For some reason, however, the Los Angeles newspapers carried stories stating that Preston had been identified as Mrs. Parsons' assailant through the fingerprints. The source of this misinformation could not be determined.
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Santa Clara County, CA

Michael Hutchinson

Oct 25, 1998 (Milpitas)

Michael Hutchinson was convicted of the robbery of a Milpitas 7-Eleven store. After the robbery, the clerk who was on duty told the store manager that his friend had robbed the store. With a local police officer, the store manager reviewed a video/audio surveillance tape of the robbery. The manager expressed surprise that the robber appeared to be Michael Hutchinson. The officer agreed that the robber appeared to be Hutchinson. Both had known Hutchinson since childhood. The robber wore a stocking mask, so it is not clear what basis the two men used to recognize him. The clerk identified Hutchinson in a photo lineup and at trial. At trial, the manager and the officer identified Hutchinson from the surveillance tape, although the officer expressed uncertainty. Hutchinson was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Hutchinson's appeals attorney thought the robber on the surveillance tape was too small to be Hutchinson. In 2001, he sought funds from an appeals court to scientifically analyze the tape but was denied. However, the San Jose Mercury News had the tape analyzed and the analyst concluded that the actual robber is several inches shorter than Hutchinson. A frame photo of the robber leaving the store with a height overlay added to the door shows that the robber could not be more than 5'8" tall. Hutchinson is 6' tall.

In 2006, a federal court overturned Hutchinson's conviction. The prosecution planned to retry him using his apparently hostile ex-wife as a identification witness. Rather than face retrial, in 2007 Hutchinson pleaded to a time-served deal.  (Tainted Trials (with robber photo)) (Mercury News)  [1/08]

St. Clair County, IL 

Floyd Flood

Aug 23, 1924 (Freeburg)

Floyd Flood was convicted of robbing the First National Bank in Freeburg, IL. Two female bank employees identified him as one of the six men who robbed the bank. Along with Flood, two of the actual robbers were convicted. Following their conviction, the two confessed their part in the robbery, but stated that Flood was not involved and that they did not even know him. Two more of the actual robbers were then caught. They confessed and named the remaining two men involved, neither of whom were Flood. The bank employees who identified Flood admitted they could be mistaken, and a pardon application was made for him. However, the Bankers Association opposed the pardon until every one of the six robbers were caught and convicted. Eventually this demand was met. Illinois Governor Small pardoned Flood in Jan. 1926.  (CTI)  [4/08]

Winnebago County, IL 

Henry Olson

Sept 6, 1927 (Rockford)

Henry Olson was convicted of the murder of gas station attendant Floyd Stotler. The murder occurred during an attempted robbery of the Hart Oil Station at the corner of Broadway and Kishwaukee Streets in Rockford, Illinois. Floyd's father, Orville, was the only eyewitness. Despite the fact that the two perpetrators wore masks, Orville positively identified Olson as the bandit who shot his son. This identification was the only evidence connecting Olson to the murder.

At trial, Olson presented twelve alibi witnesses. While most of these were family members and not every witness claimed to have seen Olson at the exact time of the crime, still the alibi was quite credible. Nevertheless, six of twelve jurors favored convicting Olson, resulting in a mistrial. On retrial, with much the same evidence, Olson was convicted.

Despite the verdict, the judge, evidencing his doubt of Olson's guilt, allowed him to remain free on $10,000 bond, pending appeal. Soon afterwards, Olson and his wife disappeared from the community. They had driven to Chicago and telegraphed family members to come for their car. A nationwide search for the pair proved unsuccessful. According to many, Olson's flight was considered an admission of guilt, and there were rumors that Olson's wife was the second bandit in the gas station holdup.

Meanwhile, Olson's attorney continued his efforts to clear his client. He got a lead from a physician, who reported that a family maidservant had stated that Olson was not guilty.  When police questioned her, she denied making the statement. Later, after she was taken in for further questioning, she admitted making the statement and said her boyfriend, Maurice Mahan, had boasted to her that he and his chum, George Bliss, had held up the gas station, and that Bliss had done the shooting. When Mahan and Bliss were picked up, they were questioned separately and each eventually confessed, giving identical details. They both pleaded guilty to the crime.

Efforts were made to locate Olson and his wife through press and radio to give them the good news, with a message to return home. After some weeks Olson, then in New Orleans, saw a notice in a newspaper. After contacting his attorney to confirm the news was true, Olson and his wife returned to Rockford. Olson faced a third trial, but was acquitted in Mar. 1928.  (CTI)  [11/07]

St. Tammany Parish, LA 

Dennis Brown

Sept 1984 (Covington)

In Sept. 1984, a woman was raped in Covington, LA. Dennis Brown was not even a suspect in the rape, but he had unwisely volunteered to serve as a filler in a police lineup. The victim had only seen the eyes of her masked assailant, but she identified Brown in the lineup and at trial. On the basis of this identification, Brown was prosecuted and convicted. He served 19 years of a life sentence before DNA tests exonerated him in 2004.  (IP) (IPNO)

Anne Arundel County, MD 

Guy Gordon Marsh

June 28, 1971 (Glen Burnie)

Guy Gordon Marsh was convicted of murdering Charles Erdman, a customer inside a Glen Burnie 7-Eleven on Crain Highway near Aquahart Road. The victim had tried to stop a robbery that was in progress. Linda Packech, a heroin addict and the main witness against Marsh at trial, said she saw Marsh come out of the store and pull his mask up. In 1987, Packech admitted she lied. She was in jail at the time she claimed to have seen Marsh. She told a reporter and a prosecutor that she had been pressured to finger Marsh by a county police detective who was convinced Marsh was guilty. Marsh was released after 14 years of imprisonment and Packech was convicted of perjury.  (The Capital)  [1/07]

 Suffolk County, MA

Marlon Passley

Aug 11, 1995

Marlon Passley was convicted of murder and assault. He allegedly was a helmeted motorcycle passenger who fired on a group of six youths, killing Tennyson Drakes, and seriously wounding two others. Passley was identified by four of the victims in court. Passley was cleared in 2000 after the real perpetrator was identified and indicted.  (CIPM) (JD)  [10/05]

New York County, NY

Pezzulich & Sgelirrach

Mar 22, 1919

Frank Pezzulich and Frank Sgelirrach were convicted of armed robbery charges. On Mar. 22, 1919, seven pistol-wielding masked men robbed a rooming house at 36 Beach St. occupied by nine Croatians. The victims were robbed of $1728, $85, $13, and $15. One victim, Mike Zic, followed a group of robbers that went towards Varick St. He caught one of the robbers, Frank Strolich, and held him for police. Strolich denied his participation in the robbery and gave his address as 408 W. 24th St. A detective went to the address, a rooming house, along with Frank Zic, the heaviest loser in the robbery. There they met two Austrians, Frank Pezzulich and Frank Sgelirrach. Zic identified both as robbers. During the robbery two robbers' masks had allegedly slipped, allowing them to be identified. Both Austrians admitted knowing Strolich, but denied being robbers.
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Lee County, NC 

Steve Snipes

Feb 13, 1998

Steve E. Snipes was convicted of the armed robbery of Thomas Superette, a convenience store near Sanford. After the robbery, two of the store clerks identified the robber as Steve Snipes, a neighborhood man and regular customer of the store. The robber wore a ski mask, and the clerks were not even sure of his race. They said the robber sounded like Snipes would have sounded if he had tried to change his voice. They also said the robber's clothing looked like clothes Snipes sometimes wore.

Police arrested Snipes shortly afterwards. They did not recover the stolen bank bag, money, weapon, or a jacket like the one the robber was wearing 15 minutes earlier. Snipes also had an alibi. However the clerks' testimony was sufficient to convict. Snipes' trial attorney, Andre Barrett, was subsequently disbarred after allegations of misappropriating $800,000 in client funds. The trial prosecutor, Bill Huggins, was accused of trying to get his girlfriend to kill his wife. A plea bargain sent him to prison for obstruction of justice and embezzlement.

Since Snipes' imprisonment, a witness had come forward who testified that another man, Terrance Wyatt, was the robber. Wyatt was caught committing an identical robbery while Snipes was in prison. In 2007, after Snipes served over 5 years of imprisonment, NC Governor Easley pardoned him.  (News & Observer) (AP)  [4/08]

Allegheny County, PA

Drew Whitley

Aug 17, 1988 (Duquesne)

Andrew Whitley was convicted of murdering Noreen Malloy, 22, a night manager at a McDonald's restaurant near Kennywood Park. Another employee who was Whitley's neighbor recognized the man as Whitley. The witness admitted that he could not see the perpetrator's face clearly as he was wearing a nylon mask, but he recognized Whitley by his voice, the shape of his head, and the way that he walked. A third employee identified Whitley in court. In addition, a death row inmate testified at trial that Whitley confessed to him in prison. Whitley's conviction was overturned in 2006 after DNA tests on hairs left in the killer's discarded mask showed that they did not belong to Whitley.  (Post-Gazette) (IP) (Innocence Institute)  [9/06]

Philadelphia County, PA

Lex Street Innocents

Dec 28, 2000

On Dec. 28, 2000, four men clad in black ski masks entered a row house at 816 N. Lex St. and forced its ten inhabitants to lay face down on the floor of the home. The men then released a spray of gunfire that killed seven, ages 15 to 54, and injured three. The killings, the deadliest mass murder in Philadelphia history, became known as the Lex Street Massacre. Police arrested Jermel Lewis, 25, Hezekiah Thomas, 25, Sacon Youk, 22, and Quiante Perrin, 21, in connection to the killings. Following his arrest Lewis confessed to the crime due to “a combination of misinformation [and] coercion.” Lewis may also have been on drugs that day, making him more vulnerable.

Yvette Long, a surviving victim, initially told police she could not identify any of the assailants. However, after sessions with a psychiatrist, she testified that she recovered her memory of the night and named Youk and Perrin as shooters and identified Thomas by a nickname. Another man, Shihean Black, repeatedly confessed to the crime, but police dismissed his confessions. Originally police believed that the murders were committed as part of a dispute over drug territory. However, Black's story was that a drug dealer who lived at the house had ruined the clutch on Black's car, and that the murders were committed in retaliation. Another individual corroborated Black's story, and charges were dropped against the four men after they spent 18 months in prison. The four men later sued the city and won a $1.9 million settlement for wrongful incarceration. Another four men, including Black, later pleaded guilty to the homicides. A book was written about the case entitled The Lex Street Massacre by Antonne M. Jones. [7/05]

 Dallas County, TX

Steven Phillips

May 14, 1982

Steven Charles Phillips was convicted of raping a woman and sexually assaulting two others during a burglary. The assailant's face was partially covered during the attacks. However, the rape victim identified Phillips and spoke at length about her assailant's “striking blue eyes.” Other women also told authorities that they remembered the assailant's blue eyes. However, Phillips' eyes are green. Phillips also pleaded guilty to eight additional charges for sex crimes that police said were committed by the same man who committed the rape. A defense attorney said that after being convicted of the initial charges, Phillips gave up and pleaded to the additional charges.

In 2007, DNA evidence has cleared him of the charges for which he was tried, making him the 14th person in Dallas County to be exonerated by DNA testing. A court will have to decide if the same evidence also clears him of the other charges that he pleaded to.  (DMN) (IP)  [10/07]

Navarro County, TX 

Shannon & Clements

Mar 15, 1925 (Currie)

Earl Shannon and H. A. Clements were convicted of the robbery of a Currie grocery store. Two armed men had robbed the store, which was owned by partners Phipps and English. English, who was present during the robbery, identified one of the masked and hatted robbers as Clements. Clements ran a shop about two miles away with his partner Shannon. After Phipps found circumstantial evidence that implicated Shannon, English identified the robbers' lookout man as Shannon.

Just before Shannon's trial, Phipps told Shannon's attorney that English could not identify any of the persons who robbed the store except Clements. The trial judge would not permit Shannon's attorney to testify to Phipps's statement. Shannon's conviction was later overturned for that reason. He was never retried.

While in prison, Clements met another inmate, Blackie Davis, who confessed to the grocery store robbery and signed a deposition to that effect. The Governor was unconvinced by Davis's admission, and refused to pardon Clements. However, a sixty-day furlough was granted to enable Clements to locate the accomplices implicated by Davis's confession. On his furlough, Clements found one of the accomplices. Backed by an application endorsed by the district judge, the prosecutor, and all the jurors, the Texas Governor pardoned Clements in May 1929.  (CTI)  [11/07]

Norfolk, VA

Willie Davidson

Nov 27, 1980

Willie Davidson was convicted of raping, sodomizing, and robbing a 66-year-old woman. The assailant had worn a stocking mask over his face, a cap, gloves, and a coat. The victim had known Davidson and his family most of her life. Davidson and his family had moved away years before, but they had stopped to visit the victim the day before the attack. Police put a stocking on Davidson's head and asked the victim if he looked like her attacker. She responded affirmatively. Davidson said that he was at home sleeping while the crime was being committed. His family members supported his alibi at trial. Davidson served almost 13 years of imprisonment.

A crime lab analyst, Mary Jane Burton, had, against the rules, saved specimens of biological evidence of the cases she worked on. Evidence saved by Burton had already helped exonerate three convicts. In 2004, DNA tests were ordered on a random 10% of her approximately 310 specimens, resulting in the exonerations of Davidson and Phillip Leon Thurman. Gov. Warner pardoned both in Dec. 2005.  (IP)  [12/05]

Richmond, VA

Michael McAlister

Feb 23, 1986

Michael McAlister was convicted of attempted rape. The victim said a masked man wearing a red and white plaid shirt attacked her, and McAlister voluntarily put on a red plaid shirt when police asked him to before taking his photo. The victim was later shown a photo spread and identified McAlister, the only man in the photo spread wearing a red shirt. The chief investigator and the trial prosecutor went to McAlister's parole hearing in 1993 and said, “We just felt that McAlister was not the person and that there was a high probability [someone else] could have committed the offense.” Parole was denied in 1993 and in later years, and as of 2002, McAlister was waiting for his mandatory 2004 release.  (Times-Dispatch)  [11/05]

Yakima County, WA 

Ted Bradford

Fall 1995

Ted L. Bradford was convicted of rape after police contended he confessed following an 8-hour interrogation. The perpetrator had worn a nylon stocking over his head and had covered his victim's face with a mask. The victim had described the perpetrator as 6' tall while Bradford is 5'7". In the confession, Bradford said no children were present in the victim's home, when in fact the victim's infant child wailed throughout the attack. Bradford served a 9-year prison sentence, but did not stop professing his innocence. In 2007, the DNA profile of another unknown man was found from skin cells left on the mask. A court overturned Bradford's conviction, making Bradford the first person in Washington State whose conviction was overturned because of DNA evidence. The state plans to retry him. According to a prosecutor, even though Bradford faces no additional prison time, it is important to make him register as a sex offender. Bradford also faces a $600,000 judgment owed to the victim and her husband, who sued him in 1996.  (Seattle Times)  [10/07]