Discussion

What did you think about this FRONTLINE report on eyewitness identification errors and how DNA evidence is clearing the innocent and convicting the guilty?

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Dear FRONTLINE,
The program was presented very well. I liked that it was a program based on fact without all the hype typically seen on Dateline, Prime Time Live, etc. Great job.

I felt immense sympathy for both Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. Cotton because he was wrongfully convicted, but for Thompson to live through the rape, the trials, etc. only to find that she was wrong 10 years later, and that Cotton served such a long prison sentence, must have induced guilt that no one surviving a rape should endure. It was certainly a tragic ending for her and I hope that she finds peace in her life.

Corrinne Ellis

Dear FRONTLINE,
What Jennifer Saw blows a hole in the popular myth that our courts are all for justice. The DNA evidence suggests that they would imprison thousands unjustly rather than let one guilty man go free. Ironically, for every unjust sentence passed, a guilty man goes free anyway. Until the rules of evidence are amended to enforce more scientific double-blind methods, police and prosecutorial biases shall subvert the rights of both defendants and victims. The rush to vengence is worse than the original crime.

Martin T. Wirth

Dear FRONTLINE,
"What Jennifer Saw" was an extremely enlightening journey into the validity of "eyewitness" testimony. Frontline's well balanced approach presented both perspectives in a non-biased manner.

I am scheduled to report for jury duty in March and your program has heightened my awareness of the need for a thorough review of all evidence, even to the point of questioning what may be considered "hard and fast truth".

Ken Baker
Montgomery, Alabama
kbaker@ch2m.com

Dear FRONTLINE,
After viewing your program, "What Jennifer Saw," on Feb. 25, I realized how long it had been since I had experienced journalism as it was meant to be. I am a journalism student and have just recently left Indiana University at Bloomington because of moral and educational differences I have with the school. Your program has shown me that there are people out there who belive in real journalism and use it to educate the public about issues of serious concern, such as wrongful conviction and what we can do about it. The past couple of months have shown me that life can be very scary, especially when one is unsure of the direction one wishes to take. Your show has not only convinced me to give journalism another chance, but that I can use my future profession to help people like Cotton. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth McFadyen-Ketchum
Bloomington, Indiana
emcfadye@indiana.edu

Dear FRONTLINE,
I watched your program on KERA out of Dallas last night. It was about a man mistakenly identified, convicted, and imprisoned for over ten years for rape. The presentation did have merit for the most part.

I must, however, express my concern over certain racial references that added nothing to the story. I found the references to the fact that someone had a habit of "touching white women" and the reference that the whole thing was about a black man raping a "white woman" to be thoroughly unnecessary. They were, in fact, indicitive of what is wrong with the news media today.

Being that this story was part of a "public television" broadcast I expected better and was sorely disappointed. I kept expecting some sort of vindication for these references toward the end of the story. None appeared. They were useless references which should have been left in the editing room.

We are approaching the 21st century. Get with the times or get off the air Frontline!!!

Todd Woods
A fellow public broadcaster.

Dear FRONTLINE,
I can only hope that the bloodthirsty folks who support the death penalty and, more particularly, support very limited appeals for those who are sentenced to death, have a chance to view "What Jennifer Saw." Could there be a stronger statement about the fallibility of our human, legal institutions and about how the science of tomorrow may acquit the accused of today?

Carolyn Hebert
Memphis, TN
cmhebert@aol.com

Dear FRONTLINE,
I want to commend you on tonight's broadwast "What Jennifer Saw." As a public defender, I am deeply concerned about the vast gulf which exists between the public's positive perception of eyewitness identification testimony, on the one hand, and what scientists teach us about the fallability of such testimony, on the other. Thank you for showing this important piece. Please cover other reports on how science teaches us to question what we commonly believe.

Mark C. Cogan
Brooklyn, NY
mcogan@ziplink.net

Dear FRONTLINE,
Your program confirmed what I realized last July when DNA results exonerated my client, Steven Toney, after he had served over thirteen years for a rape he did not commit: eyewitness identification should NEVER be enough, by itself, to convict -- especially where the race of the victim and assailant differ. In Mr. Toney's case, the victim, a white woman, was "100%" certain that he raped her. Yet he looked nothing like the description she and a witness gave of her attacker. The only thing Mr. Toney had in common with her rapist is that both were Black men.

Thank you for bringing this important issue to the fore; too many people mistakenly believe that eyewitness identification is infallible evidence when all too often it is tragically wrong.

Sincerely,
Rebecca S. Stith (Mr. Toney's 14th attorney)
St. Louis, MO

You can verify this story by checking the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for July17, 1996, JET Magazine for August or September 1996, AP for July 17 andGERALDO (daytime program) for the fall (Mr. Toney was interviewed).

Dear FRONTLINE,
I recently saw your documentary on "What Jennifer Saw" and remember the case from what I read in magazines and saw on the news. The victims (Jennifer and Mr. Cotton) have suffered an awful tragedy in their lives. My sympathy and prayers are with them both. I appreciate PBS so much. First of all for wanting to report the facts and not sensationalizing and "juicing up" for the ratings. I can only imagine the horrible guilt Jennifer felt when it was discovered that the wrong man spent 11 years of his life serving a prison sentence that should have someone else. I only wish they could meet and resolve the hurt they both no doubt have experienced. I salute Jennifer's bravery and Mr. Cotton's persistence in the faith. God bless them both with his loving spirit.

Tanya M. Horton
Portsmouth, VA
horton@tct10.med.navy.mil

Dear FRONTLINE,
I commend your program "What Jennifer Saw" for illustrating the problems with eyewitness testimony and our current judicial procedures. Your programs helped show viewers -- who may be prosecutors, judges, eyewitnesses, or jurors -- how completely we can deceive ourselves. We all feel we will know when we are sure of something and when we are not, are incapable of unconsciously altering our memories, and will recognize the truth when we see it.

Jennifer Thompson provided a compelling refutation of these beliefs. She tried hard to maintain her "composure" and perform an accurate identification, expressed relief that she chose the same man in the line-up, and appeared genuinely anguished at the realization that she had identified the wrong man. She seemed to accept the scientific evidence, and appeared genuinely puzzled that she still remembered Cotton and not Poole. We should not expect our own experience to be significantly different from Jennifer's if we found ourselves in her situation. The juror who interpreted Cotton's absence of reaction as increasing guilt illustrated another piece of trickery in our minds, the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our minds are even capable of "remembering' things that never happened, as illustrated by Recovered Memory Therapy, in which numerous people came to believe they suffered terrible sexual abuse as children. Not only do their minds fabricate these experiences without their realization, but they come to believe them so passionately that they turn to hating or prosecuting loved ones, and traumatize themselves over their nonexistent mistreatment. The same mechanism appeared in the Child Molestation movement, in which evidence adduced from children was used to falsely prosecute numerous teachers and child care workers.

A judicial system that operates without recognition of basic human characteristics is unquestionably destroying numerous innocent lives. There are several grounds for improvement. First, an education in human psychology, and especially the frailties of memory and decision making mechanisms, should be a mandatory part of the training required for every lawyer, judge, prosecutor, and investigator involved in criminal prosecution. Second, eyewitness testimony must be recognized as just as fragile and prone to contamination as physical evidence, and should be collected only by trained specialists practicing double blind safeguards.

Third, the judicial system should be held accountable for its decisions. When evidence reveals that a wrongful prosecution has occurred, there should be a mandatory investigation into just what went wrong, as determined as that carried out when a plane crash destroys lives. In some cases the error may be due to procedural shortcomings that can be corrected. In all too many others, specialists say, prosecutorial or judicial abuse will be found, and in such cases the perpetrators should NOT be immune to prosecution. The ACCURACY, rather than the number, of every prosecutor's successes should be collected, and made the true measure of his job performance.

David Lindsay
Silver Spring, MD

Dear FRONTLINE,
Thank you for having the courage and integrity to air the show of February 25, 1997, in which you dealt with the subject of men falsely accused and convicted of sex crimes. (I only saw the last half so my comments may only be relevant to that.) In this decade of the woman it seems as if our entire culture has adopted the view that any man accused by a woman must be guilty and any woman making accusations, especially about sexual acts, must be telling the truth. We have accepted the bigoted feminist view that all men are potential rapists and all women victims of some invisible patriarchy. You are the only network I have seen with the guts to even touch on this subject in any sort of objective manner.

Sincerely,
Steven Jones
Memphis, TN


Dear FRONTLINE,
This evening I watched your program ans was appalled by Miss Loftus's so called expert opinions. You see I have been a victim of violent crimes, Twice. The first time, in 1990, I was mugged. And again, 4 years later, an intruder broke into my home and raped me. The first time I was mugged, The second time an intruder broke into my home and raped me.

Through each investigation, (which took years) I was able to continue my life "normally" because of the confidence I had in my identification of the two men.

At no tome during any of these investigations did the police unwittingly make statements to lead me to choose a suspect. It was simply through my own awareness that I was able to identify my attackers, and ultimately see that justice was served.

Miss Loftus owes any woman who has been attacked an apology. Her underestmation of those same woman is subjective to say the least.

Sincerely,
Arlene Hartlove Barry
Laurel, Md


Dear FRONTLINE,
I just viewed your program "What Jennifer Saw", and I was impressed once again with the outstanding content of your series. I must admit that I was perplexed as to why Jennifer failed to express her regrets directly to the man whom her faulty testimony wrongfully incarcerated for more than a decade. It appeared to me that he needed to hear from her, and that pehaps she needed to open up to him so that she could more fully heal herself. Even the police detectives & the district attorneys involved with the case seemed to express more remorse than she did once it became clear that they had participated in this tragic chapter of justice gone wrong.


Dear FRONTLINE,
Let me preface this by stating I am an avid Frontline Fan and never miss it. Your show is the highest quality investigative jounalism on television and rivals the print medium as well.

However, I was struck by the absolute hypocrisy of the the comments made by the former OJ Simpson lawyers (Sheck et al) during the broadcast of "What Jennifer Saw". Am I the only one who noticed? Was it not just a few months ago that these same lawyers were working for OJ disputing the clear DNA evidence showing the guilt of their client? Now we see them connected to an organization called "The Innocence Project" touting DNA as the best thing since the fingerprint. I'm sorry Frontline, you dropped the ball... surely you could have found more credible messengers of a of a worthy message. You are doing important work with shows such as this and you should be a little more thoughtful in choosing who you allow to make your points.

Clarke Stallworth
Columbus, Ohio
stallworth.2@osu.edu


Dear FRONTLINE,
25 years ago, I investigated military aircraft accidents. I very quickly learned to distrust eyewitnesses. It was essential to talk to witnesses within 24 hours, especially before they had time to talk to each other and to think over what they had seen. They were often people who had some expert knowledge and usually had no reason to tell anything other than what they believed they had seen.

I remember one helicopter accident that I investigated where I had film of the entire event. There were 24 witnesses and some of them gave testimony that absolutely could not have happened. Even when pressed, they stuck to their testimony. Sometimes what they testified to was physically impossible. I actually showed one witness the film of the accident and asked him if he still remembered it differently. He insisted he did and would not change his testimony. He had no reason to lie but once he had it in his mind what he believed happened he would/could not change.

I am not at all surprised that Jennifer still sees Ron Cotton in her mind, she has run the"film" over and over and that is now the truth to her. I admire her for being able to admit that she was wrong. What a burden to carry.


Dear FRONTLINE,
I just watched your show on Ronald Cotton sitting in my law office in Charleston, South Carolina and asked myself why I haven't heard about this case. While the rest of the world focuses beams of attention on O.J. Simpson, there are thousands of men like Ronald Cotton rotting in jail in the cool shade of obscurity. Fortunately, but yet unfortunately, its takes Frontline to shed intelligent light on this difficult dilemma. Shame on other news organizations that have disproportionally focused for nearly three years on the terrible crime in Brentwood, California, forgetting and inevitably ignoring those other crimes and convictions that happen all to often and all too wrongly.

Craig Burgess


Dear FRONTLINE,
The program about the Cotton rape case conviction just ended. As an attorney who has sat in on criminal hearings (criminal law is not an area in which I would chose to practice) I believe that many convictions are the result of overzealous D.A.s interested in another notch in their guns/belts instead of whether the individual on trial is either guilty or deserving of punishment, especially in the cases of drug users. The system creates this type of misguided justice by allowing only those with successful convictions to move up the ladder "of success." Hardly success in my book, but this appears to be the way things are, not the way they should be. Add to this the lack of interest of many Public Defenders, some of whom appear to be interested only in their regular paychecks rather than the guilt or innocence of their clints/victims, and the outcome is predictable. I choose not to practice this type of law because all too often the rich and guilty get off and the poor and innocent do time. Disgusted in Oceanside, CA.

Barbara Tierney


Dear FRONTLINE,
I find it quite intersting that Ms. Thompson, a victim, does not consider mr. Cotton as a victim. She talks about her rape as being horrible etc. Mr. Cotton incarceration in a prison was also horrendous. Mr cottom\n was a victim. Suppose that North carolina had the dealth penalty for rape. Ms. Thompson poo pooses Mr. Cotton eleven years of being incarcerated. She talks about her emotional bars which noone can see. Mr Cotton also was behind emotional bars as well as real ones. His life was at rsik every day for over 4,000 days while in jail.

It appears that she is resentful because Mr. Cotton is an innoccent man and was released from prison. Ms. Thompson needs to get over it. It also reflects poorly on her that she has not at least contacted Mr. Cotton and apologized for her part in his misprison for a crime he did not commit. This story is a prime reason as to why the United States should not have the death penalty.


Dear FRONTLINE,
In a system of cynical prosecutors and police who need convictions, for a society driven by vengence, before self-righteous judges who often are blinded by their own arrogance, is it any wonder that innocent men and women are having their lives destroyed in prison for crimes they did not commit? Thank God for DNA testing, for the lawyers who dedicate themselves to Truth, and for the light you have shown on the subject.

Ralph H. Van Fossen, Jr.
Decorah, Iowa
CII@Juno.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
Saw your excellent presentation of "What Jennifer Saw" this evening. My wife's cousin, Dr. Reid Hunt, was a participant. It clearly pointed out some of the inadequacies in our judicial system, but more clearly pointed out that we are indeed making strides. Thank God there are people who can forgive, and law enforcement officers that consider the rights of the accused even after a case is closed.

Sincerely,
Dave Roberts
Spartanburg SC
DRobe61230@aol.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
I find it deeply disturbing that Barry Sheck is associated with innocence project and it's reliance on DNA testing. Barry Sheck has done more to discredit DNA testing than any number of people could ever possibly hope to do with his performance in the Simpson trial. Doesn't he want everyone to believe that all conclusions of DNA testing are merely the result of contamination by the control sample? Are the people that DNA testing are setting free as "innocent" as OJ?

Phil Wiegand
Oakland, CA
philananda@aol.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
As the victim of an armed holdup, I remember the difficulty of identifying a subject in a police line-up. In my view, mistaken identifications are not occasional coincidences. Victims and police alike want closure after a crime, and the act of confronting those who may be possibly guilty evokes strong emotions that can easily cloud judgement and memory.

Daniel Seligson
New York, NY
dms77@columbia.edu


Dear FRONTLINE,
What I found compelling was how she never admitted that she in fact *had* made an error in her identification. Instead, she says that "if we made an error..." and, of course, at the end of the hour is shown saying "I see *his* face." This seems to be the result of something about criminal trials that I find very hard to deal with: that is, never getting some kind of overall narrative of "the truth", that is, the big picture narrative of what actually did happen. There is one side and there is the other side and the jury weighs the "evidence" (no matter how small a set of the overall evidence they are allowed to see) and makes its decision; the "whole truth" never seems to get aired. I would have thought that given that Mr. Poole confessed to both rapes, that Jennifer would have been able to confront him with specific questions about that night that only he could have known, so that she could know for herself once and for all, rather than being plagued by this faulty memory which she still carries. Maybe that's her choice, and maybe he wouldn't want to participate or maybe she wouldn't. Still, I was left at the end of the hour wondering what *really* happened, and feeling very bad for her that she still seems to wonder, too.

By the way, I appreciate that the producer/filmmaker did not mention Mr. Neufeld's or Mr. Scheck's association with the Brown/Goldman case but instead noted only their association with The Innocence Project.

Crofton, Maryland


Dear FRONTLINE,
This topic needed to be addressed. Mistaken identity by white women has always been a tragic affair for the Black community. The sentencing for Black men is far more severe than for whites, and it is no secret that racism has played a major role in the conviction of innocent Black men. I hope your program will open the eyes of this nation, still living in denial about the racism that is so sadly prevelent all over America.

N.R. Rogers


Dear FRONTLINE,
As a lawyer who had some experience defending persons charged with criminal offenses early in my legal career, your documentary concerning the unreliability of eyewitness testimony came as no surprise. However, inaccurate identification is only about a third of the problem with the criminal justice system in my opinion.

Another third would be that all witnesses, especially police officers, who testify for the state have immunity from the laws against perjury, and routinely take advantage of that immunity.

The last, and probably most important, third is the fact that there are absolutely no checks and balances on the power of prosecutors. Almost invariably, when it is shown that an innocent man was convicted, it also is shown that a prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence from the defense. I have never heard of a single case where a prosecutor was punished after it was shown that he withheld evidence beneficial to the defense.

You may already know that there is presently a case before the United States Supreme Court where the court has agreed to decide whether a prosecutor has immunity for knowingly giving false information to a grand jury in order to indict a defendant. Should the Supreme Court decide that this prosecutor went too far, it will be the first small crack in the doctrine of prosecutorial immunity.

H.P. Brelsford


Dear FRONTLINE,
I have been working for the last ten years to help free a former student of mine who was wrongfully convicted on multiple counts of rape, sodomy and assault. I only wish we had any DNA evidence; in this "crime" there was no physical evidence at all: no fingerprints, no semen, no blood, no scratches, no bruises. Just the "eye-witness" testimony of three teenage girls. The result is not just one ruined life, but many. And in the current political climate, the public seems to think that a few innocent people in prison is not too great a price to pay for the illusion of security. It is a very sad, frustrating and frightening situation.

Thank you for airing such an important and timely story. I am thankful that some innocent men are being released. But what about those with no DNA evidence to be used?

Laura J. Bird
DeKalb, Illinois


Dear FRONTLINE,
Your thorough work on this story is commendable. What better argument could one make against the finality of capital punishment? The memory researchers have told those of us who cared to listen that "eyewitnesses" are often unreliable, but the general public holds dearly to the myth of infallibility. Now we are beginning to learn why we cannot trust our eyes and our memories so well. Thanks for a job well done.

Robert Markle
Grand Haven, MI 49417
bobmarkle@novagate.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
Let me first comment on the courage of Jennifer to come before cameras after all she's been through. I wish her the best. As for the story it's what is in the back of the mind of every Black man when the police pull you over. Thanks to todays press and movies. A Black male is seen as either leaving a crime or on his way to commit one. This also showed why justice for Blacks is still a ways off. Not one of the Blacks that testified was given any credaiblity in what they were saying. This country is still in a sad state of affairs when it comes to crime and punishment.

Marcus Kelley
Sucram3240@aol.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
Thank God for DNA identification. The old saying "don't believe anything you hear and only half of what you see",has an errie meaning in the case of Ronald Cotton. True, each of us see the same situation differently and truly believe we are right, but we must not let sight alone make our judgemets. Not only was Jennifer victimized, but Ronald also. This is very unsettling to me and my faith in our justice system.

P.s. I can't help but think about the irony of DNA in this case and the O J Simpson case. Which reminds me of another old saying, "MONEY TALKS".

Yours truly,
Greg Martin
Lumberton, Ms.


Dear FRONTLINE,
I just finished watching "What Jennifer Saw". I hope that all those involved saw the program. Your insightful presentation could have a healing affect for many people. I have long known of the fallibility of justice in America. I have been a prison Chaplain. The Chaplain is the person most likely to hear about these tragedies. I have watched frightened, confused young inmates evolve into spiritually strong adults while they served time for crimes they did not commit. All of the human institutions have failed him. All that he has left is God. I know many men who have found the peace that passeth all understanding while in prison, guilty and not guilty. However, the men who remain in prison for crimes they did not commit deserve our special attnetion and resources.

It may seem theologically incorrect to say that God needs lawyers to accomplish his works, but surely the lawyers at The Innocence Project are entitled to at least a cosmic thumbs up and a celestial grin.

Rev. Sam Sewell
Naples, FL
72752.76@compuserve.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
The real Tragedy in this eleven year story is how seldom the name of 'The RAPIST' is mentioned. Ronald Cotton was raped in innumerable ways for Eleven Years; Jennifer relived her rape for Eleven Years and Mr. Poole, The RAPIST', was the only one who was "INNOCENT Until PROVEN GUILTY"! If Law Enforcement and the Legal System had granted Mr. Cotton his Presumption of Innocence from Day One perhaps the Right Man would have been incarcerated for those eleven years. How many innocent inmates are not alive to tell their stories?

Mary Lou Pakidis
Phoenix, Arizona


Dear FRONTLINE,
Saw your presentation of WHAT JENNIFER SAW tonight 022597. Very good. It was informative, illustrative, and gripping. Well done. Thank You. I have a suggestion for Jennifer that she should apologize to the wrongly accused as an ammends. The real perpetrator was found, and Mr. Cotton exonerated. She should make that ammends step for a proper release and he must forgive.

Earl Bridges:
ebridges@pacbell.net


Dear FRONTLINE,
I am so glad you aired this show about the innocence of Ronald Cotton. God knows he deserves for the world to know that he was wrongly accused. But I am so appauled at the reaction of Jennifer Thompson. I have never felt so much anger towards someone I did not know.I understand that she did not make this mistake on purpose. But this does not mean Mr. Cotton does not deserve some type of explanation from her. I am just completely amazed that she does not see the pain she caused Mr. Cotton and his family. I understand that this was not her fault or somthing she did on purpose, but regardless, this man lost eleven years of his life because of her mistake. I really feel he deserves some kind of apology from her. At the very end of the show Ronald Cotton stated that he had never had any type of contact with her. That is just terrible, she should take into consideration how badly she wanted her perpertrator to repremended for his crime, because she was such an innocent victim, and remember that Ronald Cotton

One last comment that is only pure opinion and may be offending to some of the readers of it. I just wanted to point out the irony of Barry Scheck being the head of a project labeled the Innocence Project. I was unaware that he even understood the meaning of the word. A person is not innocent after killing two people. Maybe someone should tell him this before he continues with his project.

Colton, Ca


Dear FRONTLINE,
I have always had a great respect for our justice system. While not perfect, it is still the best. However, this does not mean it should not be subject to change and I believe some serious re-engineering needs to be done. We may need to even spend a little more money initially, to make this system better. Your show tonight left out any discussion of how as a society we should compensate someone who has been wrongfully imprisoned. I do not believe the rape victim should bear all the blame, lest she would then be victimized twice. Nor should any one person in the justice system be held solely responsible for simply doing their job. By recognizing and ackowledging imperfections in the system a method for at least attempting to compensate someone for wrongful incarceration should be developed. When a convict is in prison it is said that he is paying his debt to society. Therefore if an innocent man is sent to prison, then society is indebted to this innocent man.


Dear FRONTLINE,
Wonderful show. I have recently had an experience with the judicial system which opened my eyes to its fallibility. I have come to realize, as does Barry Scheck and Dr. Loftus, that there are thousands of innocent people wrongfully incarcerated. My humble efforts involve starting a usenet newsgroup devoted to helping the falsely accused (soc.support.abuse.falselyaccused) and a web site for a woman wrongly imprisoned (http://www.philsmith.com/kriseya/).

I applaud you for bringing this American tragedy to the public eye. The American people can hardly be called upon to right these wrongs if they have no knowlege of their existence. Thank you.
Phil Smith


Dear FRONTLINE,
Bravo and kudos for another excellent show. Thank you for this excellent, even-handed presentation of such a tragic miscarriage of justice. Any law student contemplating a career as a prosecutor or anyone considering a career in law enforcement should be required to watch "What Jennifer Saw" as a part of their training. It should be required viewing in every law school in the country. I hope all those law-and-order types out there who always believe the police and prosecutors got to see the show and if they didn't, then they should be required to as well.


Dear FRONTLINE,
Lawyers on both sides of a case cannot be trusted. The system isn't for them. Victims can also be undependable. When it comes to big cases such as these, we jurors, the people who ultimately put people in jail, on death row, or free, have a responsibility to victims, the accused, and ourselves to request scientific evidence such as DNA testing. Besides most of the psychiatric mumbo jumbo, most of science is purely factual. It's there, we must use it positively. We do owe some honesty to our criminal system.

Lance Kramer
Kotzebue Alaska
qaluraq@ptialaska.net


Dear FRONTLINE,
Your recent documentary, _What Jennifer Saw_ gave me a lot to think about. This is a rare gift.

The first thing that struck me was Jennifer Thompson's courage: in facing the man she believed to be her attacker over and over in court, in accepting that she may have been mistaken all along, and in sharing her painful and personal story so openly with all of us.

During the night of her attack, she showed such strength, never relinquishing the hope of escape, continually preparing herself for the moment that she would face her attacker in court. She searched dilligently for ways to burn her attacker's face into her mind. However, the human memory is far from perfect. For this, she cannot be held responsible.

The second thing that struck me was the value of objective means of identification. At the time, Jennifer Thompson's memory provided the best means available of identifying her attacker. Since then, biotechnology has offered another means of identifying the perpetrator of a crime: DNA evidence.

DNA and fingerprinting share an advantage: they provide a means of identification that does not rely on eyewitnesses. As we begin to trust these more objective means of identification, perhaps we can begin to redefine the role of the eyewitness in the trial. Perhaps the greatest value of eyewitness testimony is its ability to convey what happened. As we being to remove the burden of identification from human witnesses, we may be able to focus more clearly on what people do best: tell their stories.

Thank you,
Carla


Dear FRONTLINE,
Regarding your program aired on February 25th, 1997, It is with regret and disappointment that I am addressing the producers of this program. Your selection of this particular crime to demonstrate the value of new detection techniques etc., served a secondary purpose. That is to undermine the credibility of women when these types of crimes are perpetrated upon them. It is the opinion of this citizen that at the very least PBS could be held to a different standard. I would accept your reasons regarding availability of opportunity and other logistic and impact issues, but your lack of sensetivity to this issue will perhaps mark our collective memory.

Thank you for your continuous efforts to produce compelling programs!

Fred Razzaghi
Immigrant
Princeton, New Jersey.


Dear FRONTLINE,
The standard of proof in criminal cases is beyond a reasonable doubt, not beyond all possible doubt. As long as we live with that standard, there will be cases like the Cotton case. Why not highlight one of the thousands of cases where eyewitness ID was confirmed by DNA or a defendant's confession, rather than call into question every conviction not based on science? Do we really want to keep criminals frm being responsible for their crimes if they leave no body fluids or fingerprints behind? That world would be open season for the law abiding. What happened to Mr. Cotton was horrible for him, but it is not the indictment of the entire system as people like Barry Scheck would have us believe. What would they have as the alternative?

desiree w. wayne
houston, texas
dwwayne@hotmail.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
Jennifer Thompson said, near the end of the show, "I wish I didn't see Ronald Cotton's face in my mind." There is a remarkable therapy called EYE MOVEMENT DESENSITIZATION AND REPROCESSING (EMDR) that is used successfully on victims of trauma and those suffering from PTSD. One of the effects of the therapy is that memories that are so disturbing and interrupt one's well being are rendered vague and fuzzy, or the memories may fade away altogether.

I know this from personal experience and wish that you would tell Jennifer Thompson about this therapy. It could grant her wish to stop seeing this in her mind. Unfortunately, I do not have the specific site, but I know that the EMDR Network can be accessed via the Internet from a search. That way, she can find a certified provider in her area.

Keep up the good work, Frontline.

Sincerely,
Mary C. Tozzolino


Dear FRONTLINE,
Well done, Frontline. Rather than cover this issue in the typical TV magazine manner, your program went beyond the expedience of just another black man wrongly accused by the white "system," to point out some of the frailties of our criminal justice system. It isn't necessarily a matter of good and bad, but of honest people trying to ferret out the truth in the grayness of irrepressible emotion... and failing. In the end, though, justice emerges in the detached verity of science. My heart goes out to Mr. Cotton and Jennifer. Thank you, Frontline, for a well-done, compelling bit of story-telling.

Sincerely,
Jay Eastlick
St. Joseph, Mo.


Dear FRONTLINE,
Last night I watched the latest installment of Frontline, "What Jennifer Saw." It discussed a rape that happened in a small North Carolina town in the mid-eighties. A young black man with a police record, wrongly convicted of the crime, spent 11 years in prison after being 'identified' by the victim in a police line-up.

Undoubtedly, many will find in this and similar miscarriages of justice a powerful argument against capital punishment. I do not. If the perpetrator of one or more capital offenses is definitely established, as it was in the Jeffrey Dahmer, Juan Corona, and Son Of Sam cases but not in the Frontline case, the legal system should have the right to impose the death penalty.

Instead of being a powerful indictment of capital punishment, "What Jennifer Saw" makes a strong case for the abolition of gun control laws. If the victim, Jennifer Thompson, had had a hand gun, three miscarriages of justice might have been prevented: her rape, the rape of a second woman by the same perpetrator later that night, and Ronald Cotton's 11-year prison term.

Cotton went to prison at a time when DNA testing either wasn't available or wasn't used. Now that it is common, miscarriages of justice such as Cotton's conviction will, hopefully, become rare and even unknown.

Roger Kolb
Somerville, Mass.
rkolb@mit.edu


Dear FRONTLINE,
The program was presented very well. I liked that it was a program based on fact without all the hype typically seen on Dateline, Prime Time Live, etc. Great job.

I felt immense sympathy for both Jennifer Thompson and Ronald Cotton. Cotton because he was wrongfully convicted, but for Thompson to live through the rape, the trials, etc. only to find that she was wrong 10 years later, and that Cotton served such a long prison sentence, must have induced guilt that no one surviving a rape should endure. It was certainly a tragic ending for her and I hope that she finds peace in her life.

Corrinne Ellis


Dear FRONTLINE,
What Jennifer Saw blows a hole in the popular myth that our courts are all for justice. The DNA evidence suggests that they would imprison thousands unjustly rather than let one guilty man go free. Ironically, for every unjust sentence passed, a guilty man goes free anyway. Until the rules of evidence are amended to enforce more scientific double-blind methods, police and prosecutorial biases shall subvert the rights of both defendants and victims. The rush to vengence is worse than the original crime.

Martin T. Wirth


Dear FRONTLINE,
"What Jennifer Saw" was an extremely enlightening journey into the validity of "eyewitness" testimony. Frontline's well balanced approach presented both perspectives in a non-biased manner.

I am scheduled to report for jury duty in March and your program has heightened my awareness of the need for a thorough review of all evidence, even to the point of questioning what may be considered "hard and fast truth".

Ken Baker
Montgomery, Alabama
kbaker@ch2m.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
After viewing your program, "What Jennifer Saw," on Feb. 25, I realized how long it had been since I had experienced journalism as it was meant to be. I am a journalism student and have just recently left Indiana University at Bloomington because of moral and educational differences I have with the school. Your program has shown me that there are people out there who belive in real journalism and use it to educate the public about issues of serious concern, such as wrongful conviction and what we can do about it. The past couple of months have shown me that life can be very scary, especially when one is unsure of the direction one wishes to take. Your show has not only convinced me to give journalism another chance, but that I can use my future profession to help people like Cotton. Keep up the good work.

Sincerely,
Elizabeth McFadyen-Ketchum
Bloomington, Indiana
emcfadye@indiana.edu


Dear FRONTLINE,
I watched your program on KERA out of Dallas last night. It was about a man mistakenly identified, convicted, and imprisoned for over ten years for rape. The presentation did have merit for the most part.

I must, however, express my concern over certain racial references that added nothing to the story. I found the references to the fact that someone had a habit of "touching white women" and the reference that the whole thing was about a black man raping a "white woman" to be thoroughly unnecessary. They were, in fact, indicitive of what is wrong with the news media today.

Being that this story was part of a "public television" broadcast I expected better and was sorely disappointed. I kept expecting some sort of vindication for these references toward the end of the story. None appeared. They were useless references which should have been left in the editing room.

We are approaching the 21st century. Get with the times or get off the air Frontline!!!

Todd Woods
A fellow public broadcaster.


Dear FRONTLINE,
I can only hope that the bloodthirsty folks who support the death penalty and, more particularly, support very limited appeals for those who are sentenced to death, have a chance to view "What Jennifer Saw." Could there be a stronger statement about the fallibility of our human, legal institutions and about how the science of tomorrow may acquit the accused of today?

Carolyn Hebert
Memphis, TN
cmhebert@aol.com


Dear FRONTLINE,
I want to commend you on tonight's broadwast "What Jennifer Saw." As a public defender, I am deeply concerned about the vast gulf which exists between the public's positive perception of eyewitness identification testimony, on the one hand, and what scientists teach us about the fallability of such testimony, on the other. Thank you for showing this important piece. Please cover other reports on how science teaches us to question what we commonly believe.

Mark C. Cogan
Brooklyn, NY
mcogan@ziplink.net


Dear FRONTLINE,
Your program confirmed what I realized last July when DNA results exonerated my client, Steven Toney, after he had served over thirteen years for a rape he did not commit: eyewitness identification should NEVER be enough, by itself, to convict -- especially where the race of the victim and assailant differ. In Mr. Toney's case, the victim, a white woman, was "100%" certain that he raped her. Yet he looked nothing like the description she and a witness gave of her attacker. The only thing Mr. Toney had in common with her rapist is that both were Black men.

Thank you for bringing this important issue to the fore; too many people mistakenly believe that eyewitness identification is infallible evidence when all too often it is tragically wrong.

Sincerely,
Rebecca S. Stith (Mr. Toney's 14th attorney)
St. Louis, MO

You can verify this story by checking the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for July17, 1996, JET Magazine for August or September 1996, AP for July 17 andGERALDO (daytime program) for the fall (Mr. Toney was interviewed).


Dear FRONTLINE,
I recently saw your documentary on "What Jennifer Saw" and remember the case from what I read in magazines and saw on the news. The victims (Jennifer and Mr. Cotton) have suffered an awful tragedy in their lives. My sympathy and prayers are with them both. I appreciate PBS so much. First of all for wanting to report the facts and not sensationalizing and "juicing up" for the ratings. I can only imagine the horrible guilt Jennifer felt when it was discovered that the wrong man spent 11 years of his life serving a prison sentence that should have someone else. I only wish they could meet and resolve the hurt they both no doubt have experienced. I salute Jennifer's bravery and Mr. Cotton's persistence in the faith. God bless them both with his loving spirit.

Tanya M. Horton
Portsmouth, VA
horton@tct10.med.navy.mil


Dear FRONTLINE,
I commend your program "What Jennifer Saw" for illustrating the problems with eyewitness testimony and our current judicial procedures. Your programs helped show viewers -- who may be prosecutors, judges, eyewitnesses, or jurors -- how completely we can deceive ourselves. We all feel we will know when we are sure of something and when we are not, are incapable of unconsciously altering our memories, and will recognize the truth when we see it.

Jennifer Thompson provided a compelling refutation of these beliefs. She tried hard to maintain her "composure" and perform an accurate identification, expressed relief that she chose the same man in the line-up, and appeared genuinely anguished at the realization that she had identified the wrong man. She seemed to accept the scientific evidence, and appeared genuinely puzzled that she still remembered Cotton and not Poole. We should not expect our own experience to be significantly different from Jennifer's if we found ourselves in her situation. The juror who interpreted Cotton's absence of reaction as increasing guilt illustrated another piece of trickery in our minds, the self-fulfilling prophecy.

Our minds are even capable of "remembering' things that never happened, as illustrated by Recovered Memory Therapy, in which numerous people came to believe they suffered terrible sexual abuse as children. Not only do their minds fabricate these experiences without their realization, but they come to believe them so passionately that they turn to hating or prosecuting loved ones, and traumatize themselves over their nonexistent mistreatment. The same mechanism appeared in the Child Molestation movement, in which evidence adduced from children was used to falsely prosecute numerous teachers and child care workers.

A judicial system that operates without recognition of basic human characteristics is unquestionably destroying numerous innocent lives. There are several grounds for improvement. First, an education in human psychology, and especially the frailties of memory and decision making mechanisms, should be a mandatory part of the training required for every lawyer, judge, prosecutor, and investigator involved in criminal prosecution. Second, eyewitness testimony must be recognized as just as fragile and prone to contamination as physical evidence, and should be collected only by trained specialists practicing double blind safeguards.

Third, the judicial system should be held accountable for its decisions. When evidence reveals that a wrongful prosecution has occurred, there should be a mandatory investigation into just what went wrong, as determined as that carried out when a plane crash destroys lives. In some cases the error may be due to procedural shortcomings that can be corrected. In all too many others, specialists say, prosecutorial or judicial abuse will be found, and in such cases the perpetrators should NOT be immune to prosecution. The ACCURACY, rather than the number, of every prosecutor's successes should be collected, and made the true measure of his job performance.

David Lindsay
Silver Spring, MD

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