Perry Mitchell’s case, a black man from Lexington County, South Carolina, illustrates how wrongful convictions can happen due to bad eyewitness identification. One of difficulties you see in these cases is that oftentimes the person offering the identification genuinely believes he or she is making the correct ID. These cases can happen without any intentionally misleading actors; they’re just horrible, tragic mistakes that can lead to very long sentences.
On the night of December 29, 1982, a young woman was dragged into the wood and raped at knifepoint. This happened close to where Perry Mitchell lived. A week later, he was arrested because he “somewhat” fit the description of the girl’s attacker and lived in the vicinity of the crime. Perry consistently maintained his innocence and said he had been visiting an elderly neighbor’s house on the night of the rape, and that he heard someone scream. After visiting that neighbor, Perry said he went to a party next door where there were about 10 to 15 other people.
The victim, who was white, described her attacker as a black male in his 20’s wearing tennis shoes, blue jeans and a dark windbreaker jacket. That night, Perry said he was wearing cowboy boots, and a bright jacket. Nevertheless, the police placed Perry in a photo line-up and showed it to the victim. The victim picked him out of the third photo line-up she had viewed.
At trial, this identification was admitted as evidence, along with faulty serological testimony that misstated the probably that someone of Perry’s blood-type committed the crime. The jury convicted Perry of first degree criminal sexual misconduct and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Perry lost his direct appeal. In 1996, Perry was granted a hearing on his right to have DNA testing performed on the semen that was collected in the case. The testing was completed in 1998, and Perry was excluded as the contributor of the semen. The judge then granted Perry a new trial. The State did not try him again, and he was released from prison on August 4, 1998 after being wrongfully incarcerated for nearly 15 years.