Press Reactions

From USA Today
By Matt Roush

"Seeing isn't always believing in the cautionary legal nightmare of What Jennifer Saw ...a perfunctory yet thoughtful FRONTLINE report."

...FRONTLINE lays out the facts calmly and clearly, making for interesting but not especially riveting viewing. Still, it's preferable to the sledgehammer manipulation of newsmags such as Dateline NBC , which would make tabloid mulch of a story like this. Imagine them milking the victim's hysteria and the despair of the falsely accused with ominous or sentimental music, punctuated by slamming jail bars and gavels.

PBS is where you go when the Excedrin headache of network TV gets too much."

From New York Times
By Walter Goodman

"The script is not unknown to realife television: a wrongful conviction, a long stay in prison, final exoneration. Tonight's absorbing FRONTLINE uses such a case to inquire into the vagaries of memory and the fallibility of eyewitness testimony."

...This carefully reported hour takes pains to make clear that this was not a stereotypical case of old-fashioned Southern injustice. Mr. Cotton was a plausible suspect. He had a police record, including a conviction for rape, and a shaky alibi. But given little physical evidence, the prosecution relied on Ms. Thompson's identification during the trial. A lawyer comments: 'It is incredibly powerful evidence, and jurors want to believe the victim. They identify with the victim and especially when there's really no motive for the victim to lie. It is very hard evidence to overcome.'"

From Boston Globe
By Michael Blowen

"Producer Ben Loeterman intimates that this is the judicial system at the crossroads. An eyewitness identification, while not often convincing to lawyers and judges, is powerful evidence when it comes to the jury. One juror, interviewed for this program, said that everyday she watched an emotionless Ronald Cotton sitting in court every day she believed he got guiltier and guiltier."

...In the Cotton case, the police, the witnesses, and the judge all did their jobs to the best of their abilities, and a man who was innocent ended up losing more than a decade of his life--and more. Ronald Cotton now works in the DNA lab that provided the evidence of his innocence.

What makes this nonfiction film so compelling is that Loeterman goes beyond guilt and innocence to raise fundamental questions about the thousands of others who may be falsely imprisoned. He further suggests there are serious fissures in the foundation of our judicial system."

From Philadelphia Daily News
By Ellen Gray

"If you're a fan of NYPD Blue , you might want to tape this one and watch it later, because it represents, in some ways, the flip side of the ABC drama."

...FRONTLINE interviews a number of people to find out just how something like this can happen, including memory expert Elizabeth Loftus, who notes, disturbingly, that cases involving DNA testing may represent only the tip of the iceberg.

Since 1989, dozens of people have been freed in cases where DNA tests later showed seeing wasn't believing, but such testing can be done only in cases where DNA evidence has been left behind, suggesting a certain percentage of other cases may be faulty, too.

If most of your notion of crime and punishment is derived from the prosecution-friendly arena of prime-time TV, where the overwhelming majority of the doers really did it, you owe yourself a look at What Jennifer Saw ."

From Bloomington Voice
By Jim Poyser

"Eyewitness testimony, according to one of the lawyers in What Jennifer Saw , is incredibly powerful evidence and jurors want to believe the victim...it is very hard evidence to overcome."

...Producer/director Ben Loeterman, in this brief and elegant film; brings human memory expert Elizabeth Loftus to the screen, who makes an obvious yet chilling observation: '...people do have more trouble identifying the faces of strangers of a different race than strangers of their own race.' this 'cross-racial identification problem,' as she puts it, is of course at the heart of what Jennifer saw: a white woman trying to identify a black man.

Ronald Cotton is free--yet 11 years was spent in prison. Jennifer, presumably, never will be free from the pain of her rape, nor from her suit regarding misidentifying Cotton as her assailant. DNA testing, now firmly in place, gives us something besides unreliable human perceptions to convict...or release--suspects.

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