When the book finally comes out, readers are going catch mistakes in the book. At least some of those mistakes were intentional, and here’s why:
In a 1999 study, Iowa State researchers Gary Wells and Amy Bradford showed participants grainy video footage of a real case in which a man shot and killed a security guard while robbing a convenience store. They were then given a spread of five pictures, and told that the culprit was included in the photo set. Every one of the participants claimed they could positively identify the culprit. They were all wrong. The researchers had deliberately excluded his photo from the lineup. More troubling still, when one group of participants was given positive feedback from the researchers, that group became more confident in their identifications. Half said they were now “certain” of their identification. Those participants also said they would be more willing to testify against the suspect. They were more likely to describe the security footage as “clear” than other participants and, notably, also denied that the positive feedback had any effect on their identification.
Misidentification by witnesses has been a factor in 72 percent of post-conviction DNA exoneration cases. People make mistakes all of the time—mistakes that they are absolutely certain about. Mistakes that juries believe. Like this mistake:
What makes eyewitness identifications especially mischievous is that they are not only often inaccurate, but usually they can be quite convincing to juries, regardless of their veracity. One of the most powerful forms of evidence a prosecutor can deploy is a person who was at the scene of the crime, who will point to the defendant in court and say, “That’s the man who did it.” Juries often believe such witnesses even when loud alarm bells are warning them away. After a woman was raped in her New Jersey apartment in 1992, the victim couldn’t find her assailant in police photos. But eight months later, she saw McKinley Cromedy on the street and implicated him—even though she had passed him over in the original photo lineup. Fingerprints from her apartment didn’t match his; neither did hairs or blood samples recovered by police. He was convicted anyway and sentenced to 60 years in prison, five of which he served before a DNA analysis cleared him.
In every thriller I write, eyewitnesses are going to make identification errors. They’ll do this because real witnesses do this, and I want my books to take place in the real world. That makes the fiction better. And if it makes people think about the problem of eyewitness testimony, maybe it helps make the real world better too.