How to be a good eyewitness - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Special Report:

How to be a good eyewitness

^ Phil Cannon ^ Phil Cannon
^Lt. James Williams ^Lt. James Williams

February 10, 2003

Albany -- If you witnessed a crime, could you give the police an accurate description. Eyewitness testimony is crucial in finding criminals, and prosecuting them. But is it accurate? We put some South Georgians to the test.

A Gunman burst into a room and says "Give me all your money. What are you looking at. Give me all your money. Hurry up!"

Then he rushes out, 14 seconds later. This was a test. The people in the room were shocked, but these 13 eyewitnesses gave Police Investigators their description of the armed robbery.

Eyewitnesses described him as "A black male. Between 5-11 and 6-1, about 220."

"I'd say he's 5-8, 230 pounds. He had on a denim outfit, jacket and pants. With a yellow shirt."

"It looked black from here."

"A navy blue shirt. He had a silver or gray gun, I don't know the make. It looked like a small 9, but I'm not sure. "

"He had a red Belk bag, a Belks department store bag. He had a little black mustache. He said "What you looking at?"

"He kinda drug his leg. I don't know if it was a pimp walk or just nervousness. It happened too fast, I mean it was just 5 or 10 seconds. Plus he caught me off guard."

APD Lt. James Williams said "I graded this group as outstanding. They did a good job in identification."

Lt. Kenn "How old are you?" Singleton asked the actor.

"Twenty-eight."

"How much do you weigh?"

"220"

"How tall are you?"

"5-11..."

He's got on a yellow shirt, he had on his cap. What's the color on it, silver. OK , someone did say it was silver and black. Does he have a mustache? Someone picked that up."

"I heard someone mention the Red Belk bag," Lt. Williams said. "And that was good, because now we know someone is walking around with a Belk's bag, and that gives us something to look for."

"The citizens are always going to be the eyes and ears of any Police Department," Singleton said. "We can't be in all places at all times. Therefore we need the information that's coming in from the community."

"It is a cutting edge philosophy in criminal defense law right now that eyewitness identification is not reliable," said Defense attorney Phil Cannon.

Defense attorneys say eyewitness testimony is not always accurate, but is very hard to beat in court. Cannon said "Many experts in the country now are beginning to testify to the problems with eyewitness identification and the problems with juries just believing them because they think they are telling the truth."

One eyewitness said, "He scared me, but I really did pay attention when he was saying, what he was saying to Officer Singleton. I was really paying attention."

Lt. Williams said, "If they are involved in something like this to be focused on the suspect, to be able to help us give some details." This test was a success for the eyewitnesses. They gave an accurate description of the crime.

Police caution eyewitnesses to not get involved if they see a crime happening. Get the best information you can, but don't try to stop the criminal yourself.

We thank the late Valerie Frazier, one of the eyewitnesses in this report, for her help.

posted at 9:48AM by jimw@walb.com