On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals granted a new trial for a Wisconsin man who was convicted in 1996 of an armed robbery and attempted murder that another man has confessed to committing. Cody Vandenberg will get a new trial in order to present new evidence about the other man’s confession and the unreliability of the eyewitness who identified him.
Vandenberg was convicted of repeatedly stabbing an acquaintance, Blake Renard, in his home and stealing his credit cards. He was sentenced to 80 years in prison.
Defense lawyers say another man, Larry Pearson, who testified for the state at Vandenberg’s trial after receiving immunity, has confessed to committing the crime. Pearson’s bloody shoeprint was also found at the crime scene.
Additional evidence casts doubt on the reliability of the victim’s eyewitness identification of Vandenberg. It was known at trial that Renard was drinking the night of the crime, but the level of intoxication was never disclosed. Tuesday’s ruling revealed that based on hospital records from that evening, Renard had a blood-alcohol level of 0.22 percent, nearly three times the legal driving limit.
John Pray, Vandenberg’s lawyer and co-founder of the Wisconsin Innocence Project, who accepted Vanderberg’s case in 1999, told the Greenbay Press-Gazette that his client was misidentified by the victim, who said he knew his attacker.
“When you’re drunk and you’re being stabbed by someone at 4 a.m. within an inch of your life, it’s pretty understandable he can’t remember the details,” he said. “No one is blaming the victim in this case. He was trying to make an identification under difficult circumstances.”
In light of the new evidence and confession, Pray hopes the state’s attorney will agree to drop the charges against Vandenberg, allowing him to be freed after 14 years in prison.
Eyewitness misidentification is the single greatest cause of wrongful convictions nationwide, playing a role in more than 75% of convictions overturned through DNA testing.