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Conflicts between eyewitnesses lead to hung jury

What happens when two eyewitnesses vividly recount the scene of a murder but their descriptions don't match up?

For one Erie man, it meant a hung jury. A hung jury means that there was no consensus among jurors at all -- so the defendant couldn't be found guilty or not guilty.

In this case, however, it doesn't mean freedom for the defendant. First, he's already serving time for having taken a couple of shots at the deceased a few weeks before the fatal incident -- an act which put him at the top of the police's suspect list when the 24-year-old victim was later murdered.

Second, the prosecution has 120 days to decide if they want to retry the defendant for the murder. That gives them time to reexamine the case, look at just what evidence they have, reevaluate their witness list and decide if there is a way to overcome the flaws that brought this trial to a halt.

According to the prosecution's witness, the defendant is guilty as charged. That witness was certain he saw the defendant and the victim struggling before the victim tried to turn and run -- at which point the defendant fired on him. The shooter identified as the defendant by the prosecution's witness was dark-skinned, wearing a dark hoodie.

The defense had their own witness, however, and that witness said the shooter was light-skinned and short, and he was wearing a white t-shirt under a jacket with no hood.

Situations like these help illustrate the dangers of criminal cases built largely on suspicion and eyewitness accounts -- a growing body of research has made it clear that eyewitnesses are simply not as reliable as once believed. Poor lighting, stress, the actual memories of the event merging with newspaper accounts of the crime or the defendant's appearance during a police lineup can all affect eyewitness recollections.

The witnesses aren't lying -- they're quite sure of what they saw, which is what makes their testimony so powerful for many jurors. However, studies have shown that nearly three-quarters of all wrongful convictions later overturned through the use of DNA evidence were based on eyewitness testimony.

If you've been arrested on what amounts to largely suspicion and eyewitness testimony, you'd be wise to consult with a criminal defense attorney who can help challenge the evidence.  The Quinn Law Firm handles a large volume of criminal defense matters and would be happy to discuss your case with you.

Source: GoErie.com, "Jurors deadlock in Erie fatal shooting trial," Madeleine O'Neill, March 31, 2017

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