Beaver will be fully exonerated in court today; 5th St. Louis County man in 5 years exonerated by DNA after being wrongfully convicted based on misidentification
(ST. LOUIS, MO; March 29, 2007) – DNA tests prove that Antonio Beaver did not commit a violent carjacking near the Gateway Arch in St. Louis for which he was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to 18 years in prison, the Innocence Project said today.
Thursday morning, March 29, the Innocence Project and the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office will file a joint motion to vacate and dismiss Beaver’s conviction and release him from police custody immediately. Beaver will appear in court with Nina Morrison, his Innocence Project attorney, along with co-counsel Maleaner Harvey and Scott Thompson of the Missouri State Public Defender’s Office. The Innocence Project anticipates that Beaver will be released at the conclusion of the hearing. Beaver, Morrison and representatives of the Circuit Attorney’s Office will speak to reporters following the hearing.
Beaver’s exoneration comes a decade after he was convicted of first-degree robbery – and more than five years after he began seeking DNA testing to prove his innocence. In August 1996, a man approached a woman’s car as she parked at the Gateway Arch. He told her he was the attendant in the parking lot and that she needed to move her car. As she got back into the car, he threatened her with a screwdriver; a struggle ensued, and the man was cut and bled on the interior of the car. The victim, fearing for her life, stopped fighting and told the man to take her car. Later, she provided a detailed description to police and helped prepare a composite sketch. Although Beaver did not match the victim’s description or the sketch, she ultimately identified him during a substantially flawed police lineup. Although fingerprints in the car (including on the rearview mirror) came from neither Beaver nor the victim, he was tried and convicted in April 1997.
“Antonio Beaver should never have been arrested for this crime, let alone convicted,” said Morrison, Beaver’s attorney at the Innocence Project, which is affiliated with Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. “Virtually all of the factors that are known to reduce the accuracy of eyewitness identifications were involved in this case – creating a perfect storm of human error and shoddy procedures that could only end in injustice. Because police relied on seriously flawed identification procedures, it was a foregone conclusion that the victim in this case would identify Antonio Beaver.”
The victim described the perpetrator as a black male, 21 years old, 5’10” to 6’ tall, 150 lbs, with blood on his arm, no facial hair and a “David Letterman-like” gap in his front teeth. When he was identified less than a week later, Beaver, who is black, was 31 years old, 6’2”, 170 lbs, with no reported cuts or injuries on his arm and a full mustache; he had a broken tooth, but not gaps in his teeth. The victim was presented with a lineup consisting of just four people (federal standards call for several more); two were police officers, and the other two (including Beaver) wore baseball caps, as the perpetrator did. During the lineup, the victim could not positively identify Beaver at first (even though the lineup was so small and the “fillers” were selected so poorly). Once she asked that each member of the lineup show his teeth, she identified Beaver – who, with a broken tooth, was the only person in the lineup who had any dental imperfections.
“We’ll only compound the injustice Antonio Beaver endured unless his exoneration – and the exonerations of several Missouri men before him – becomes a learning moment to improve the criminal justice system,” Morrison said. “Clearly, eyewitness misidentification is a serious problem – and everyone will benefit from serious, prompt reforms in identification procedures.” Eyewitness misidentification played a role in more than 75% of the wrongful convictions overturned by DNA nationwide, according to the Innocence Project. Eyewitness identification reforms have been endorsed by the U.S. National Institute of Justice and the American Bar Association, and have been adopted in jurisdictions throughout the country. Beaver is the seventh Missouri man convicted, at least in part, by eyewitness misidentification and later exonerated by DNA; six of the cases were in St. Louis County, and five of those St. Louis County men were exonerated in just the last five years. The seven Missouri men whose wrongful convictions were caused in part by eyewitness misidentification spent a total of more than 102 years in prison.
Without an attorney, Beaver began seeking DNA testing on the blood in the car in November 2001. The state filed a motion to dismiss Beaver’s request in 2003. The Innocence Project took the case in 2005, and the state ultimately agreed to the DNA testing in October 2006. Once the DNA results showed Beaver’s innocence, the Circuit Attorney’s Office agreed to file the motion to vacate and dismiss the conviction jointly with the Innocence Project. The motion is filed under Missouri’s DNA statute, which requires the court to find that new DNA evidence establishes Beaver’s innocence; the Circuit Attorney’s Office and the Innocence Project agree in the motion that Beaver meets the required standard.
Beaver, who is now 41, was working as an office temp at a laboratory in St. Louis when he was arrested in 1996. He plans to live with an aunt and uncle in the area while he begins to rebuild his life.
The Innocence Project, affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has provided direct representation or consultation in most of them.