Exclusive: New science could help inmate

July 25, 2008 3:08:21 PM PDT
A convicted murderer is hoping that new science will be his ticket to freedom. That science involves eyewitness identification and distance. Can someone really see what they claim?It could be groundbreaking in how identifications are viewed in criminal cases, and it's an Eyewitness News Investigators' exclusive.

Early next week, lawyers for 44-year-old Darrell Edwards will head to court in Newark, arguing that new science proves an eyewitness who identified Edwards as a killer couldn't have seen him. And this science could have enormous ramifications for thousands of people in prison convicted by eyewitness identification.

"I know I'm getting out," Edwards said. "Cause I am innocent of the crime. It's going to work for me. The legal system going to work for me."

Edwards has maintained his innocence for 13 years, through four trials. There were two mistrials, a hung jury and, finally, a guilty verdict for a murder that took place in Newark in 1995.

"It's just like a numb feeling," Edwards said. "It's a shock. Wow, they really found me guilty for something I didn't do."

Now, new scientific research may back up his claim. There's already DNA on a sweatshirt police say the killer wore, and testing last year showed it's not Edwards. Also, his DNA wasn't on the gun used to kill the victim.

The Investigators' Sarah Wallace: "There was no physical evidence linking you to this crime?"
Edwards: "No, eyewitness ID, that's what they said."

In particular, the testimony of a neighborhood woman, Patricia McKinnis, who claimed she was at her house around the corner and spotted Edwards and an accomplice run through an alley and dump incriminating evidence in a trash can.

The vantage point from McKinnis' porch to where she says she saw Edwards is exactly 271 feet. Also, it was in the dark and McKinnis wasn't wearing her prescription glasses.

Barry Scheck and his team of Cardoza law students at the Innocence Project enlisted the expertise of Washington state scientist Dr. Goffrey Loftus, who has done multiple experiments on distance and identification.

"We asked him to take a photo of a young African-American man, this is not our client, Darrell Edwards, I want to emphasize that," Scheck said.

He points to a clear picture (seen above).

"This is what you can see from 20 feet away, under normal conditions with 20/20 vision," he said.

He points to a blurry vision.

"This is what it looks like from 100 feet," he said.

Finally, he points to a nearly incomprehensible picture.

"And this is what one sees from 271 feet away, which is nothing but a blur," he said.

This "new" science and the DNA evidence, plus the recent recantation by McKinnis, are the basis of a motion for a new trial for Edwards that a Newark judge will begin considering early next week.

"I believe that my day is coming," Edwards said. "In the United States, if one percent of the people are innocent, that's too many people. The system does not work for everybody. And we have to realize that there are innocent people locked up...I know I'm one of the ones that is going to get out."

Edwards is serving a 30-year-to-life sentence. The Essex County Prosecutor's Office is opposing the motion for a new trial, arguing the conviction should stand.


STORY BY: The Investigators' Sarah Wallace