Ohio Murder Trial Could Hinge on Eye-Blink Identification

The outcome of an Ohio murder trial might depend on the blinks of a dying man who gestured to identify his alleged killer. The defendant could face life in prison if convicted in his upcoming trial.

David Chandler, 35, was shot in the neck and head Oct. 28, 2010, in Cincinnati. When police interviewed him Nov. 2, he was paralyzed and using a ventilator to breathe, authorities said.

"The police went up to the hospital and the family had started this blinking method prior to the police coming up there," Hamilton County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman Julie Wilson said.

Chandler had been instructed to blink twice for no and three times for yes.

During the interview, Chandler was shown a photograph of Ricardo Woods, 34, and Chandler blinked three times for him.

"They went up and interviewed him and showed him a picture of the defendant and he identified him as the person who shot him," Wilson said. "The police, at different times, also changed [the signal system] to make sure the victim really understood what they were asking."

Wilson also said that Chandler was shown an alphabet and authorities went through the letters one by one and said that Chandler reacted to the letter "o."

"He indicated on the letter 'O' and, apparently, that is a street name or nickname that the victim knew the defendant by," Wilson said.

She said that prosecutors believe that Chandler and Woods knew each other prior to the incident "through drug deals."

Soon after, Chandler went into a coma and died Nov. 12.

Woods was charged with murder, felonious assault and weapons counts.

A Cincinnati judged ruled that the 17-minute blinking video could be admitted as evidence in Ricardo's upcoming trial, but his attorney staunchly opposes the use of the video.

"This prosecution is basing its entire case and essentially the guilt or innocence of a person based on the response made by this person who is hooked up to a ventilator," Ricardo's attorney Kory Jackson said. "Just from a justice standpoint, it's a little bit scary."

Jackson said that, aside from Chandler's blinking identification, there is "zero other corroborating evidence" that points to his client.

The prosecutor's office said there is other information connecting Chandler to the crime, but would not specify what it is.

Jackson also took issue with Chandler's being shown only one photograph, adding that the first time authorities went through the alphabet with Chandler, he "doesn't blink at all."

When police went through it a second time, they said that Chandler indicated the letter "o," but that the alphabet is facing away from the camera, Jackson said. The attorney also insists that his client denies knowing Chandler and that there is no evidence that his client was nicknamed "O."

Christo Lassiter, a professor of law and criminal justice at the University of Cincinnati's College of Law, called the use of the blinking video "pretty bizarre."

Lassiter is not directly involved in the case, but has been following it closely.

When presented with the video, Cincinnati Judge Beth Myers had to decide whether the blinks were mindless, related to something else or a clear response to the question of who did it, Lassiter said. And that decision would dictate a big piece of the suspect's trial.

"In this case, the judge viewed the video and she made the determination that the blinking eyes met the standard-- that they were reliable, that it was not routine involuntary blinking, that they were pronounced, exaggerated movements in response to the question," Lassiter said.

"It is troubling that a person can be convicted on eye-blink identification, but it does seem to pass legal muster," Lassiter said.

The parties involved in the case are scheduled to be in court Aug. 28 for a pre-trial hearing to determine when the murder trial will begin.