Published by TribLocal at http://triblocal.com/schaumburg/2011/11/08/roosevelt-exhibit-highlights-false-convictions/
Roosevelt exhibit highlights false convictions
By Kate Thayer
November 8, 2011
An exhibit at Roosevelt University's Schaumburg campus will feature the faces of 45 wrongfully convicted people.
Forty-five faces will be on display at Roosevelt University’s Schaumburg campus starting next week to remind students and the community of those that may be behind bars, but don’t belong there.
The faces are those who have been wrongfully convicted in cases across the country, sent to prison, but then exonerated and released after further evidence was discovered.
The exhibit — titled The Innocents: Headshots, photographed by Taryn Simon — will be on display in the school’s rotunda Nov. 14 through Jan. 13. The photographs have already been on display at the school’s Chicago campus.
“Hopefully in this wrongful conviction series at Roosevelt University, we’ll be able to talk to the community,” said Shari Berkowitz, assistant professor of forensic psychology. “Hopefully people will be more aware.”
Awareness that mistakes are possible in the U.S. justice system is just one way to prevent more innocent people from ending up in prison, she said, because anyone in the community is a potential juror. In Illinois, nearly 100 people have been exonerated for crimes that landed them in prison, Berkowitz said.
Berkowitz teaches classes on eyewitness testimony and other factors that ultimately led to the false convictions of those in the photos, and in many other cases.
Included is the case of Ray Krone, who was convicted of the 1991 rape and murder of a woman in Arizona, Berkowitz said. Investigators matched bite marks on the woman’s body with a bite sample from Krone, leading to his conviction and the surname, “the snaggletooth killer.”
After 10 years on death row, Krone was released after DNA evidence cleared him of the crime, she said. He had maintained his innocence from the beginning.
Bite marks have turned out to be one of the most unreliable forms of forensic science, Berkowitz said.
But, the most common factor that results in wrongful convictions is mistaken identity, she said, which is demonstrated in the case of Ronald Cotton – another face in the exhibit.
Cotton was convicted of the 1984 rape of a North Carolina college student, who identified him in a police lineup.
Berkowitz said there are a number of reasons why someone’s memory of an event can be skewed, including stress and the phenomenon of the cross-race effect, which says people aren’t as successful as remembering the faces of those of a different race. That could be why Cotton was identified, she said.
DNA evidence later cleared Cotton after he served more than 10 years in prison, and confirmed another man, Bobby Poole, was guilty, she said.
Three involved in the Ford Heights Four case are also included in the exhibit. In the case, Paula Gray and four men were convicted in connection to the the 1978 abduction, rape and murder of a young Ford Heights couple. Gray, who originally helped police identify the four men as suspects, eventually recanted her story, saying she was pressured by police, according to The Innocence Project.
“It’s really horrifying,” said Bethany Barratt, associate professor of political science and director of the Joseph Loundy Human Rights Project at Roosevelt. “It can happen to anybody.”
And, it’s not necessarily being in the wrong place at the wrong time, she said. Besides mistaken identity, officials’ misconduct, lack of DNA testing opportunities, poor plea bargaining tactics, false confessions and underfunded public defender departments can lead to false convictions.
“I would hope that the exhibit would give us a reminder of the common humanity we share with these people who have suffered for huge parts of their lives…for acts they didn’t commit,” Barratt said. “It can happen in all kinds of places to all kinds of people for reasons that are totally beyond their control.”
Berkowitz said there are a number of factors that can help avoid convicting the innocent, including allowing expert testimony at trial on various forensic science techniques, switching to double-blind police lineups, mandatory video recordings of all police interrogations and more training for forensic scientists.
Some of these tactics are already becoming commonplace for certain states. For example, in Illinois, homicide interrogations are recorded on video.
“The courts have caught on…but it’s somewhat slow still,” Berkowitz said. “This is a problem for everyone to be concerned about…even if you think it couldn’t happen to you. In 60 percent of these cases, they never catch the real perpetrator. So, they’re out on the street. That’s a problem for everybody.”
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