Wrongfully Convicted by an Inaccurate Eyewitness

It's exactly that kind of strategy that can lead to faulty identifications, according to Dysart.

"The lineup is supposed to be a memory test for the witness," she said. "And so therefore if you look at this particular lineup, this six-pack, you see it's almost like a multiple choice question … this tends to be the type of procedure that leads to inaccurate choices."

It's one reason this type of line-up is widely criticized.

Dwayne Winrow, a customer who came very close to the robber, was so sure about his choice that he claimed he "would probably go as far as to press charges."

But even though Winrow seemed very certain he chose the right person, it turned out that he was 100 percent wrong. Dysart cautions that "eyewitness certainty or confidence doesn't necessarily predict how accurate a witness is going to be."

ABC's results show just how faulty eyewitness accounts can be: 25 percent of the customers got it wrong; they identified someone other than the actor Justin as the thief. Those are not good odds when one's freedom is at stake.

Cross-Racial Identification

The next set-up involved Aemon, a black actor. It was a perfect example of what happens during cross-racial identification — when someone of one race is asked to pick out someone of another race.

Amazingly, during the line-up every single one of the black eyewitnesses correctly identified the African-American "thief." One customer, Landon Williams recalled a key characteristic: his facial hair.

"I remember the hair that he had, the lower lip, it had connected to his beard," he said.

But most of the whites got it wrong. Seventy percent chose someone other than Aemon.

There's an interesting explanation for why the whites did so poorly and why the blacks did so well. It has to do with the particular details we notice and remember to describe when looking at people.

Dysart explained "that we tend to look maybe at the wrong cues. And so, for example, a white person would probably look at someone's hair and eye color. Unfortunately, that's not very helpful if they're being asked to distinguish amongst black people or Asians, in which hair color and eye color really doesn't vary too much. "

Scientists at Stanford University wanted to look at what actually happens in the brain during cross-racial identification and what they found is fascinating.

They took brain scans of 19 subjects while they were shown more than 100 pictures of Caucasian and African-American faces. Later they were shown some individual faces that were part of the previous group and asked if they had seen them before.

The images produced by the brain scans showed that when a white person looked at another white face, the area of the brain responsible for facial recognition lit up, indicating that it is active, the Stanford scientists said. CLICK HERE to view the image.

But when the white subject was shown a black individual's face, a much smaller area of the brain was highlighted and identification by the white person was less likely to occur, they said.

Perhaps this partly explains why eyewitness identification tends to be wrong.

In experiments no one suffers the consequences of a misidentification. But in Julius Earl Ruffin's case he paid dearly.

Still, he sees the bigger picture. He forgave his accuser but he cannot forgive the system that relied on her testimony.

"I'd been in prison 21 years, you know? For a crime I didn't commit, and … what had happened had happened, and I still felt like that it was a mistake, you know? It had to be a mistake," Ruffin said. "And, she didn't make it by herself. The judicial system had something to do with it also, you know."

CLICK HERE to visit The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people.

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