Eyewitness’ blind spot

“A 1994 rape conviction not only altered N.J. court rules on eyewitness testimony, it raised questions of identifying people of another race.”

Tom Avril in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

CompositeThe young woman was on edge for months, keeping a lookout for the stranger who had robbed her, raped her, and threatened to cut her throat.

She had gotten a good look at him before and after the attack in her basement apartment, not far from Rutgers University campus. At one point, their faces were just two feet apart. She’d never forget that face.

Then one April day on a New Brunswick street corner, more than seven months after the rape, she froze.

There he was. Strolling along with a boom box, walking with the same side-to-side swagger she remembered when the rapist left her apartment.

She ran to call the police. A few minutes later, they arrested the suspect, a black man named McKinley Cromedy.

The ensuing trial helped trigger an overhaul of the way New Jersey treats the oldest and most dramatic sort of courtroom evidence: an eyewitness pointing out the person who did it.

Cromedy’s defense attorney took an unusual tack. He questioned her ability to tell black men apart, noting that she was white, that she grew up in an overwhelmingly white northern New Jersey suburb, that there were no black students in her high school class.

The victim was undeterred.

“It’s just something you don’t forget after what happens and everything,” she told a jury of 11 whites and one black person. “It was him.”

More than 61/2 years later, science would prove her wrong.

More here.