Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Letters Extra: Tale of the tape bests eye witness

Technology showed what the naked eye missed: Tahmir Craig was not the man visible in a murder-scene video.

Letters Extra: Tale of the tape bests eye witness

Tahmir Craig gets out of his mother´s car - a free man. With him is his mom,  Melonie Craig.  (Photo: Mari A. Schaefer)
Tahmir Craig gets out of his mother's car - a free man. With him is his mom, Melonie Craig. (Photo: Mari A. Schaefer)
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In clearing Tahmir Craig of the Chester shooting death of Devon Williams, the prosecutor played fair and square and kept investigating, and technology showed what the naked eye missed: Craig was not the man visible in a murder-scene video ("No longer jailed in Delco," March 21).

But the news isn't all good. After all, Craig was jailed for more than nine months, based primarily on video identification by a neighborhood store owner of a different race. This happened in the absence of any other evidence and in the face of an alibi and some proof that Craig was on Facebook at the time of the crime. Even though the research is clear that problems exist with cross-racial eyewitness identification, Chester police banked on it, and it took prodding to get the video-enhancement done.

In December, the Oregon Supreme Court emphasized that evaluating eyewitness testimony is often guesswork. It said that "while empirical evidence suggests that a certain percentage of eyewitness identifications are incorrect, we often have no way to determine whether or not a particular eyewitness is accurate in identifying a specific individual."

It is time that the criminal justice system in Pennsylvania recognizes this, takes greater care with identification evidence before making an arrest, and promptly investigates both corroborating and contrary proof. Craig was lucky, since there was video technology to exonerate him. But what of the next arrest when there is no tape?

Jules Epstein, associate professor, Widener University School of Law, Wilmington

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