NBC investigates New York Conviction Based on Eyewitness Evidence
Jon Adrian Velazquez, currently serving 25 years to life for the murder of a retired cop, sparked an NBC Dateline investigation into his case when he wrote to a producer of the show claiming to be innocent of the crime ten years ago.
Jon Adrian Velazquez was convicted largely on eyewitness testimony that his attorney says is false. The perpetrator had originally been described by witnesses as a black man with braids. Velazquez is Hispanic and wears his hair closely cropped. Since the most common element in all wrongful convictions later overturned by DNA evidence is eyewitness misidentification, there is an increased concern about the reliability of identifications.
“Many of the kinds of crimes where eyewitness misidentification come up are excluded because they are not the kinds of cases where DNA would ever have existed,” Innocence Project Eyewitness Identification Litigation Fellow Karen Newirth said. “We can only say for certain how prevalent it is in our cases and then assume that that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.”
“People often think that memory works like a videotape and in fact it’s nothing like a videotape,” said Newirth. “That sort of highlights both the problem of how memories are made, but also how people become convinced of the correctness of their memories.”
A witness’ perception of a crime can be affected by lighting, distance, stress and the race of the alleged perpetrator – especially if it is different than their own, Newirth said. They also can be influenced by the suggestions of law enforcement and other witnesses as they try to fill in the gaps in their memory of that event, she said.
Despite descriptions of the suspect being African-American, the lineups were filled with Caucasians and Hispanics.
Velazquez’s attorney asked the recently formed Conviction Integrity Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office to review the case.
causes of eyewitness misidentification
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