Scott Ballard District Attorney
April 12, 2014
Some scholars are studying eye-witness testimony. They claim it is unreliable. They want legislation to restrict its use in court.
I wish they could have heard the victim in a trial last week in Fayette.
The facts of the case are horrible.
Our victim is a successful businesswoman. Late one night three masked men broke into her home while was there. One pointed a shotgun at her head. Another began to beat her. They kept asking her where she kept the money.
She didn’t know what they were talking about. Later she learned that the tenant in her basement apartment had told them he had inherited money and that it was kept in a safe in the house.
The criminals started to tie her up. She could tell they planned to put something over her head.
That was when she ran. She heard a loud explosion and felt something warm and wet in her hair. They had shot her in the head with the shotgun.
She fell onto the ground and covered herself with leaves. Eventually, she crawled to a neighbor’s house and somebody called 911. Peachtree City Police caught the men and, after co-defendants pled guilty, we tried the final robber last week.
And our victim was spectacular. She pinpointed details about her attackers for the jury. Their relative height. Skin tone. One had smooth hands and another had rough hands. No tattoos. She described their voices. Their fingernails. She gave details about their clothing and their masks. I’ve never seen anything like it.
The defendant claimed another guy did it. While the trial was ongoing, we found that guy and brought him to court to set the record straight.
With one glance, our victim cleared that up. This man was not the right height.
The jury convicted on all counts. Sentencing will be later this month.
It doesn’t take multiple college degrees to know that some eye-witness testimony is better than others. Poor eyesight, dim lighting, very brief opportunity to observe, fear, the effect of the passage of time upon memory—all of these factors affect eye-witness testimony. Juries have sifted such matters for years and continue to do so every day.
But, last week a Fayette County victim of a nightmarish crime put on a clinic in eye-witness testimony. No amount of DNA evidence could have been better.