Patch: White Witnesses' ID Led To 8 Years For Wrongfully Convicted Teen

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By Kathleen Culliton
March 18, 2019

Otis Boone spent eight years in prison because the evidence of two white people, who said a black man robbed them from behind, was enough to land a teenager with a 25-year sentence, Legal Attorneys argued Monday.

"This kind of negligence in eyewitness identification is not unique," said Legal Aid Society attorney Bess Stiffelman.

"[It] demonstrates the profound recklessness of the NYPD to investigate arrests made solely on identification testimony, which we now know is the greatest source of wrongful convictions."

Boone, 27, was called a "thug" by local news outlets when he was arrested in March 2011 on charges that he went on a "one-man crime spree" in Midwood the month before.

The Brooklyn teen, then 19, was denied an attorney and a phone call to his uncle and put in a line-up next to other men he did not closely resemble, his Legal Aid attorneys argued.

The identifications from two witnesses, one of whom told police he would not be able to recognize his attacker, drew praise from the Brooklyn precinct's commanding officer.

"We couldn't draw a better picture," a 63rd Precinct captain told the New York Post at the time. "As soon as the witnesses saw it, they said, 'That's the guy!'"

But it wasn't the guy. Boone was acquitted earlier this month after Legal Aid Society prosecutors successfully argued in the Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, that the "cross-race effect" would have made it impossible for them identify him with complete certainty.

And Innocence Project data shows 70 percent of 364 U.S. convictions overturned with DNA evidence since 1992 involved misidentifications. About half of those cases involved witnesses of a different race than the suspect.

In 2017, New York Appellate Court judges granted Boone a retrial and ordered that, in future, New York judges explain the "cross-race effect" to jurors in a mandate often called "The Boone Rule."

During Boone's second trial in February, Legal Aid society presented new evidence — government records that showed he used his Electronic Benefits Card about a mile away from one of the robberies minutes before it happened — and he was acquitted in March.

"The mandatory cross-race jury instruction established by the Court of Appeals in Mr. Boone's case will serve as an important protection against wrongful conviction for criminal defendants, as it did here for Mr. Boone," said Karen Newirth of The Innocence Project. "While Mr. Boone can never get back the 7 years he served in prison, we are so happy that he is now free."

Boone plans to sue the city for false arrest and malicious prosecution, court records show.