Yet another example of the danger of relying on eyewitness testimony
Ohio man freed after another man confesses to crime
A Cuyahoga County man who was just about to get a long prison sentence has been released after another man confessed to the same crime.
Deontae Wilson was “minutes away” from being sentenced in July when word broke that another man may have been responsible for the crime. Wilson was released from jail in August after prosecutors determined he could not be guilty.
The case shows the dangers of relying purely on eyewitness testimony to convict someone. There was no physical evidence Wilson was guilty, but both victims identified Wilson as their attacker. The office of Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Michael O’Malley chose to prosecute based on their eyewitness testimony.
Wilson was convicted of 14 counts of aggravated robbery, felonious assault and aggravated burglary in February.
According to the National Registry of Exonerations, a man with a gun confronted a 32-year-old woman in her driveway in Cleveland and demanded money. The woman was then forced into the basement of her home, where the assailant and another man tied up the woman, her boyfriend and her nine-year-old daughter. The two men robbed the house and the woman was physically assaulted.
When the woman told her landlord what happened, she mentioned that the first man had a missing tooth. The landlord thought of Wilson, whose tooth is also missing. He pointed out a photo of Wilson on Facebook and the woman positively identified him as the man who attacked her.
She and her boyfriend both testified that Wilson was the man who attacked them, although the child was unable to say if it was Wilson. Common Pleas Judge Nancy Fuerst found Wilson guilty after a three day trial.
While Wilson was awaiting sentencing he told his lawyer that another man in the Cuyahoga County jail, who also had a missing tooth, had admitted to him that he was the one who had committed the robbery. The lawyer informed prosecutors and the judge on the morning Wilson was supposed to be sentenced, and the sentencing was delayed while the issue was investigated.
Three weeks after Wilson was originally scheduled to be sentenced prosecutors vacated the conviction and Wilson was let out of jail. The motion to vacate said Wilson “cannot be guilty of this matter beyond a reasonable doubt.”
For years experts have said eyewitness identification is unreliable, but prosecutors have continued to trust it.
The Innocence Project has said “Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide.”