It's long been known that so-called 'eyewitness' testimony, unsupported by other evidence, can be dangerously inaccurate. It can lead to convictions that put people behind bars - or even on Death Row - only to see them exonerated years later through DNA testing or fresh evidence.
The shooting of Michael Brown provides a quintessential case study of the problem.
Some witnesses said Michael Brown had been shot in the back. Another said he was lying face-down when Officer Darren Wilson finished him off. Still others acknowledged changing their stories to fit published details about the autopsy, or admitted that they didn't see the shooting at all.
An Associated Press review of thousands of pages of grand jury documents reveals numerous examples of statements made during the shooting investigation that were inconsistent, fabricated or provably wrong. Prosecutors exposed these inconsistencies before the jurors, which likely influenced their decision not to indict Wilson in Brown's death.
Bob McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor, said the grand jury had to weigh testimony that conflicted with physical evidence and conflicting statements by witnesses as it decided whether Wilson should face charges.
"Many witnesses to the shooting of Michael Brown made statements inconsistent with other statements they made and also conflicting with the physical evidence. Some were completely refuted by the physical evidence," McCulloch said.
. . .
Another man, describing himself as a friend of Brown's, told a federal investigator that he heard the first gunshot, looked out his window and saw an officer with a gun drawn and Brown "on his knees with his hands in the air." He added: "I seen him shoot him in the head."
But when later pressed by the investigator, the friend said he hadn't seen the actual shooting because he was walking down the stairs at the time, and instead had heard details from someone in the apartment complex.
"What you are saying you saw isn't forensically possible based on the evidence," the investigator told the friend.
There's more at the link, including many more examples of falsified testimony in this case.
This leads me to ask two questions.
- Will those who deliberately falsified their testimony, and were caught out, be charged with perjury?
- If not, why not?