12 Years Later, Freed in North Carolina
Shawn Giovanni Massey was freed Thursday in North Carolina after serving 12 years behind bars for a robbery he has always said he didn’t commit. He was cleared based on evidence of his innocence developed by the
Duke Law School Wrongful Conviction Clinic.
Massey, 37, had two years left to serve on his sentence when students and faculty at the Duke clinic told him he was going home. A state judge overturned his conviction based on new evidence that the victim’s description of the perpetrator was inconsistent with Massey’s appearance.
The victim in Massey’s case pointed to a resemblance between him and her attacker in a photo lineup during the investigation, but also told police that Massey had a lighter complexion and weighed less than her attacker. She said her attacker had corn rows, which Massey did not. This evidence was not given to Massey’s defense at trial.
Kim Kisabeth, a fellow with Duke’s Center for Criminal Justice and Professional Responsibility, began working on Massey’s case as a student in the Wrongful Conviction clinic several years ago. She continued the search for evidence in the case when she returned to the center as a fellow.
Kisabeth recalled her first meeting with Massey, during her student days, as being her first lawyer-client interaction – and her first ever visit to a prison. “It was a great learning experience. And having that experience under (Professors Jim Coleman and Theresa Newman)’s leadership was wonderful,” she said. “Having been so invested in this case as a student, I was excited for the opportunity to come back as a fellow and build on the work that the other students had done. They did amazing work on this case.”
Cases like Massey’s highlight the problems with relying on eyewitness identification in cases where biological evidence doesn’t exist to support it. More than 75% of wrongful convictions overturned through DNA testing to date involved eyewitness misidentification, and only 5-10% of convictions involve biological evidence. There’s every reason to believe that eyewitness misidentifications are just as prevalent in non-DNA cases like Massey’s as in DNA cases.
To learn how you can ask your local police department to improve eyewitness identification procedures, visit our ”
Ten Things Anyone Can Do
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