Mistaken Eyewitness


(Notable Cases)

12 Cases

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CA - San Francisco - Thomas Berdue 1851

CA - Santa Clara - Michael Hutchinson 1998

FL - Orange - Malenne Joseph 2007

FL - Polk - Jeffrey Streeter 1980

LA - St. Tammany - Dennis Brown 1984

MA - Suffolk - Herbert T. Andrews 1913

MA - Suffolk - Peter Vaughn 1983

MI - Wayne - Dominique Brim 2002

MO - St. Louis - Anthony D. Woods 1983

NJ - Essex - Berryman & Bunch 1983

NY - New York - Michael Mercer 1991

WV - Mercer - Payne Boyd 1918




Date of Alleged Crime


San Francisco County, CA Berdue & Wildred Feb 19, 1851

Thomas Berdue and Joseph Wildred were convicted of robbery.  The victim, Charles Jansen, was the proprietor of a wholesale dry goods establishment on Montgomery Street.  Jansen was struck on the head with a bar of iron and robbed by two men of several thousand dollars in coin and gold dust.  Police recognized from Jansen's description that one of the robbers was James Stuart, the leader of a feared band of escaped Australian convicts.  Stuart was also wanted for the murder of a sheriff in Yuba County.

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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 clearly shows that the robber could not be more than 5'8" tall.  He could not be Hutchinson as 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]


Orange County, FL Malenne Joseph Dec 2007 (Conway)

A home contractor hired a black woman with an accent to paint a home in Conway, an unincorporated suburb of Orlando, FL.  When the contractor failed to pay her, she reacted by going through the house and splashing it with paint, causing thousands of dollars in damage.  The contractor later told Orlando police Detective Jose Varela that he knew the woman as “Marlene,” and he gave him her cell phone number.  Varela dialed it and got a woman who answered to “Marlene” and who confessed to the crime but would not come down to the police station.

Varela found out from the woman who owned the damaged house that she had seen a black man driving a truck slowly in the neighborhood.  This behavior raised her suspicions enough to write down the tag number.  Varela traced the tag number to a man with a last name of Joseph.  He then went fishing through the motor vehicle records for a black woman named “Marlene,” who might be a relative of the truck owner.  He came up with a Malenne Joseph.  He got a photocopy of her driver's license picture and showed it to the owner of the house and her sister.  Both identified Malenne as the painter who worked at the house.

Malenne, a Haitian woman, had an accent like that ascribed to the painter.  She was brought to trial in June 2010.  Although she said she was not a painter and had never met any of the people who accused her, she was identified in court as the perpetrator.  Over defense objections, Detective Varela testified that she confessed to the crime over the phone.  Malenne was convicted of felony criminal mischief and sent to jail.

When new lawyers took over her case they found out the cell phone number Varela had dialed belonged to a woman named “Merline” whose last name was not Joseph.  Like their client, the woman was Haitian and shared some facial similarities with her.  The lawyers also found work records which showed Malenne was working elsewhere on two of the days she supposedly was painting.  When they informed the contractor that their client was 5'2" tall, he said he knew she could not be the painter as he was 5'6" and remembered the painter as being slightly taller than himself, about 5'7".  He signed an affidavit reversing his trial identification.  Malenne was released from jail after being incarcerated for 77 days.  A motion was filed to overturn her conviction.  Prosecutors decided not to charge the other “Marlene” with the crime as the statute of limitations for it had run out.  (Orlando Sentinel) (TIJ Blog)  [12/10]


Polk County, FL Jeffrey Streeter Apr 1980

Jeffrey Streeter was convicted of a crime for which he was never arrested.  Streeter went to the local courthouse in Bartow, FL on July 15, 1980 to pick up his brother who was due to be sentenced to probation on a robbery charge.  Also at the courthouse was an attorney named Warren Dawson.  Dawson represented defendant Lee Marvin Anderson who was being tried that day on misdemeanor charges of assault, battery, and resisting arrest without violence.  Dawson did not believe that witnesses against Anderson had any independent recollection of who Anderson was.  To prove his point, Dawson asked Streeter to do him a favor and to sit at the defendant's table during the trial where the defendant usually sits.  Streeter agreed and sat in the defendant's chair.  Anderson, the defendant, meanwhile sat in the spectator's section of the courtroom.

After the non-jury bench trial began, three prosecution witnesses identified 19-year-old Streeter as the person who committed Anderson's alleged offenses.  According to the testimony, the assailant was angry that Francis Garell's car was parked too close to his and knocked Garrell down.  Streeter subsequently testified he was not Lee Marvin Anderson. He even showed the judge his driver's license.  Dawson told the judge that Streeter was not the defendant, and called the real defendant, Anderson, to the front of the courtroom and Anderson identified himself.  According to Dawson, the judge would not even listen, he would not even hear from Anderson.

The judge, Edward Threadgill, Jr., dismissed the assault and resisting arrest charges against Streeter because the presented testimony did not support them.  However, he convicted Streeter of battery and sent him to jail.  Streeter was subsequently released from custody after spending 18 hours in jail.  His conviction was dismissed two weeks later.

Streeter and Anderson were both black.  In regard to his incorrect identification, Garrell, 67, said that there were few blacks in Johnstown, PA where he worked before retiring to Florida.  “Since he was sitting at the defense table, I just assumed that was the man.  So did everyone else.  If they had the real man up there I couldn't be certain I could identify him.  It happened three months ago and it was getting dusk.”  (Newspaper Accounts)  [12/08]


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)


Suffolk County, MA Herbert T. Andrews 1913
Herbert T. Andrews was charged with forging over 40 checks and convicted of forging 17 of them.  Seventeen witnesses came forward and identified Andrews as the man who passed bad checks to them.  While Andrews was imprisoned awaiting trial, similar bad checks continued to be passed in the Boston area.  After police caught the perpetrator, Earle Barnes, he confessed to passing many of the checks for which Andrews was convicted.  Andrews' trial prosecutor agreed to a new trial motion and nol prossed the indictment.  Writing afterwards about the case, the trial prosecutor noted that Andrews and the actual perpetrator “were as dissimilar in appearance as could be.  There was several inches difference in height and there wasn't a similarity about them.  To this day I can't understand the positiveness of those witnesses.”  (CIPM) (CTI)  [10/05]


Suffolk County, MA Peter Vaughn Jan 6, 1983
Peter C. Vaughn served three years for an armed robbery of a Star Market.  Security cameras showed that the same perpetrator robbed the market two months later, when Vaughn was in custody.  Nevertheless, the trial court denied a directed verdict of acquittal and the jury found him guilty.  The Appeals Court for Suffolk County reversed Vaughn's conviction, and entered a verdict of acquittal.  The court found that the “only rational explanation” for the evidence was that “the same person was involved in both robberies” and that Vaughn could not have committed the second one.  (CIPM)  [11/05]


Wayne County, MI Dominique Brim Apr 15, 2002 (Lincoln Park)

A security guard at the Sears store in Lincoln Park stopped a woman leaving the store on April 15, 2002 with $1,300 in unpaid merchandise.  In an attempt to get away, the woman severely bit the guard.  After being arrested, the woman was taken to a police station where she told police her address, her phone number, that she was 15-years-old, and that her name was Dominique Brim.  She was allowed to leave without being booked.

Two weeks later, 15-year-old Dominique Brim was charged with retail fraud and felony assault.  She claimed she had not been at the store on April 15 and that she had not been arrested.  In court, several Sears employees, including the security guard, identified her as the person who was apprehended and who bit the guard.  The judge did not believe Brim's mistaken identity defense and convicted her on both counts.

However, Brim's vehement claim that she was the wrong person did impress Sears officials enough to review their store videotape of the April 15 incident.  They discovered that Brim was not the person who was involved in the incident.  After the prosecutor and Brim's lawyer were contacted, the judge vacated her conviction before she was sentenced.  The woman on the tape was later identified as Chalaunda Latham.  She was not 15-years-old, she was 25.  Latham was able to pass herself off as Brim because she was a friend of Brim's sister.  Prosecutors decided not to charge Latham because the Sears employees had already given sworn testimony that Brim was responsible for the theft and security guard assault.  (JD29)  [3/07]


St. Louis City, MO Anthony Woods Oct 10, 1983
Anthony D. Woods was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl.  The victim was sure Woods raped her, even though she initially described her assailant as four years older, four inches shorter, and skinnier than Woods.  She also had said her assailant had a beard, but Woods had no hair between his mustache and “chin fuzz.”  Woods' attorney noted that the girl did not pick Woods out of a book of hundreds of photographs that police showed her after she was raped.  Instead, she picked the first unknown man to walk by her house that day.  DNA tests exonerated Woods in 2005.  (IP)  [6/05]


Essex County, NJ Berryman & Bunch Mar 1983

Earl Berryman and Michael Bunch were convicted of a 1983 rape.  Bunch later died of illness in prison.  U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise expressed “very serious doubt” that Berryman was involved in the crime.  A Centurion Ministries investigation showed that the lead police investigator in the case also had grave doubts about the victim's identification of Berryman.

The victim initially identified Berryman and Bunch from a mug book labeled “B,” which contained photographs of all individuals with names beginning with that letter.  The victim had earlier reviewed the “A” book and was told by police that, unless she could identify the suspects quickly, she would have to look through mug books for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet, each containing more than 150 pictures.  The record also shows that she gave vastly different physical descriptions of her assailants on three separate occasions, all of which varied substantially from Berryman's and Bunch's actual physical features.  (NACDL) (CM)  [7/05]


New York County, NY Michael Mercer Mar 19, 1991
Michael Mercer was convicted of accosting a 17-year-old in the elevator of a Manhattan building, forcing her to the roof, then robbing and raping her.  The building was at 1405 Park Avenue, near 104th Street.  The victim returned to the building two months after her assault, identified Mercer as her assailant, and yelled to passers-by, “Stop him!  Stop him!”  A crowd caught Mercer, beat him, and held him for police.  The beating gave Mercer a swollen eye and several lacerations, two of which had to be sutured.  DNA tests in 2003 showed that another man, Arthur Brown, was the actual assailant and Mercer was innocent.  Brown cannot be charged with the assault because of the statute of limitations.  Mercer was released from prison after serving 11 years.  (IP) (AP News)  [9/05]


Mercer County, WV Payne Boyd May 30, 1918 (Modoc)

In 1918, a black coal miner named Cleveland Boyd was convicted on vagrancy complaints.  He was sentenced to 30 days in jail and fined $25.  The judge who convicted him, Squire H. E. Cook, and a deputy sheriff, A. M. Godfrey, then prepared to take him to the jail at Matoaka.  Boyd, however, pleaded to stop at his home about 100 yards away where he could exchange his new shoes for older, more comfortable ones.  On stopping at his home, Boyd retrieved a revolver and shot the judge twice, mortally wounding him.  The deputy sheriff fled for his life.  Boyd fled into the hills and escaped capture.

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