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Unreliable evidence means freedom for man jailed 27 years

Eyewitness testimony has the reputation of being the most damning evidence the prosecution can rally to make its case. But experienced New Jersey attorneys know that reputation is not necessarily deserved.

Typically, the narrative authorities cobble together about a crime is supported by statements from eyewitnesses. There might even be a confession from the defendant. But how were those statements obtained? Police bullying during questioning does happen and if there is proof it was used to leverage information from a witness or the suspect, it's fair to challenge that evidence as part of a robust criminal defense. The consequences of a faulty conviction are too high.

This appears to be on display once again in case underway in Maine. The matter is far from closed, but recent developments indicate things are on a positive track to reverse an apparent faulty conviction that has kept a 44-year-old man in prison for the last 27 years.

According to reports, this man was convicted in 1992 of killing a girl he knew. Both he and the victim were 16 at the time. The murder was particularly brutal. The victim's throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed multiple times.

The only eyewitness to the crime, a 13-year-old girl, told detectives she saw what happened from a location some distance away. She said a group of boys surrounded the female victim, but that she saw the defendant stab her.

Last week, 27 years later, that eyewitness recanted her story. She told a court looking at new evidence in the case that police pressured her to identify the defendant as the killer. She said she was facing juvenile charges of her own and that officials threatened to send her away for years.

The more stunning element of the hearing, however, was the eyewitness' admission that her vision was so poor that she was legally blind. The prosecution apparently knew this but never provided that information to the defense.

Based on the recantation, the judge issued orders allowing the defendant's release on bail. A decision whether to set aside the conviction is pending further hearings, but the judge did offer that she wouldn't want to retry the case based on this eyewitness testimony.

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