Twelve years ago on this day, McKinley Cromedy was exonerated after five years of wrongful imprisonment on a sexual assault conviction. Cromedy’s conviction rested largely on the victim’s misidentification.
The injustice helped spotlight the potential for eyewitnesses to get it wrong, especially in cross-racial identification cases. The witness in Cromedy’s case was white, while he was black. Furthermore, the trial judge refused to instruct the jury that cross-racial identifications have been shown to be less reliable than same-race identifications. On these grounds, the New Jersey Supreme Court reversed Cromedy’s conviction.
After the high court granted a new trial, the prosecution agreed to DNA testing. On December 14, 1999, Cromedy became the second person in New Jersey State history to be exonerated based on DNA testing results.
Soon after his exoneration, New Jersey became the first state to adopt comprehensive eyewitness identification reforms, including sequential presentation and the use of a “blind” administrator (who doesn’t know which lineup member is the suspect). With a landmark decision from the New Jersey Supreme Court earlier this year on the admissibility of eyewitness evidence, that state re-established itself as a leader in eyewitness identification reform.