County of Conviction: San Bernardino
Convicted of: Murder/Robbery
Sentence: 25 Years to Life
Years Served: 27 Years
Exonerated: April 2, 2015
Cost of Wrongful Incarceration*: $2,192,481
*According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office 2018-19 annual costs per CA inmate
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Years Served: 27
GB* was wrongfully convicted of murdering a pizza delivery man one night in 1987. The only witnesses to the crime were outside a distant apartment that claimed to see a flash and hear a gunshot. The California Innocence Project investigated GB’s case for years and found GB had no involvement in the crime. GB was eventually released through the parole process.
In September, 1987, at approximately 12:50 a.m., Ken, a pizza delivery man, went to make a delivery in San Bernardino, California. Four witnesses were sitting on the front lawn of their apartment. Ken got out of his truck and walked up to the apartment complex with his delivery. Two men, later identified as GB and co-defendant, AT, approached Ken. The witnesses heard the words, “Give me,” and “Money.” Ken put his hands in his front pockets, pulled them out, and raised his palms up. Witnesses did not see Ken give GB or AT anything, but he heard someone say “Is that all?” GB struck Ken in the face, and AT kicked Ken between the legs. As Ken bent forward and grabbed his groin, GB raised his right hand. Witnesses saw a flash and heard a gunshot, but he did not see a gun. Ken fell to the ground. GB and AT ran away.
Ken died almost instantly from a gunshot to the heart. The murder weapon was never found.
San Bernardino detectives found a clear glass bottle lying a few feet from Ken’s body. The label was torn off the bottle. A fingerprint lift taken from the bottle matched GB’s right, middle finger. Detectives found another bottle at an apartment building nearby. A fingerprint lift taken from the beer label matched the right thumb of a man named MM. Although MM was arrested in connection to the shooting, MM was never charged. Witnesses said they could not identify the assailants because they did not see their faces, saying “All blacks look alike in the dark.”
GB admitted to being in the area of the crime earlier that night, but said he was sleeping at a friend’s apartment during the shooting. At the time of the shooting, both of GB’s hands were splinted as a result of injuries he received treatment for earlier that year, therefore could not have punched Ken or use a handgun. Even at the time of the trial, GB says he was unable to make a fist.
Problems with Eyewitness Identifications.
The witnesses were unable to identify GB in lineups despite being shown his picture, but said GB “looked like” the shooter at trial.
Research has taught us that when an individual is placed in a high-stress situation, their ability to accurately observe and later recall events is diminished. For example, if someone is confronted with the sound or sight of gunfire during the night, the typical reaction is to look for the gun first, then find cover. The high stress of the event puts the witness in survival mode, and makes it much more likely that the witness will be unable to accurately recall an event later. Any traumatic situation, such as an assault, murder, rape, or robbery, will make it much harder for a witness to identify the perpetrator.
Subconsciously, witnesses want to satisfy the police by picking an individual. Witnesses believe the perpetrator of the crime is one of the individuals included in the six-pack. Thus, there is pressure to select a person that even somewhat resembles the person they saw. Witness identifications are even less reliable if the person is of a different race than the perpetrator.
As stated above, once a witness identifies a suspect, whether it be in photos or in person, they tend to focus on the details of the person they identify and fill their memory of the incident with the more recently viewed characteristics. By the time the witness testifies in court, the identification has become so strong that they feel there is no room for error.
Studies have shown that witnesses are more likely to make an identification, whether accurate or inaccurate, when all the images are presented together in a group (for example, a six-pack). When the images are presented sequentially, one after another, witnesses make fewer identifications, but more accurate.
The witnesses in GB’s case witnessed a murder: an extremely frightening event. The weak identifications are even less reliable given the suggestibility of six-pack line-ups, the circumstances surrounding the crime (nighttime, distance, and stress), and the fact that the witnesses were not Black.
GB spent 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. The witness identifications are unreliable at best. Thankfully, GB was released in 2014 through the parole process and has completely adjusted to life as a free man.
*Certain names and details have been removed and/or altered to protect the anonymity of this client.