n South African Journal of Criminal Justice - Eyewitness evidence and eyewitness science : whether the twain shall meet?

Volume 22, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1011-8527
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2118



One of the most vivid examples of positive identification that proved to be wrong, must be the case of Jennifer Thompson. In 1984 she was a college student when she was raped in her own home. During the ordeal she decided to concentrate on every detail of the rapist in order to identify him later. She took every opportunity to study his face as they moved through the house in several rooms where the light was on. She identified Ronald Cotton from police photographs and later during an identity parade : 'I identified my attacker. I knew this was the man. I was completely confident. I was sure.' But she was wrong. Even when Bobby Poole confessed to the rape and was shown to her, her response was, 'I have never seen him in my life'. Eleven years after being incarcerated, Ronald Cotton was exonerated by DNA evidence that showed that another man with similar features was the perpetrator.

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