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Eyewitness Misidentification

Eyewitness misidentification, whether deliberate or accidental, is the single greatest cause of wrongful conviction nationwide.  Research shows that the human mind is not like a tape recorder; we neither record events exactly as we see them, nor recall them like a tape that has been rewound.  Instead, witness memory is like any other evidence at a crime scene; it must be preserved carefully and retrieved methodically, or it can be contaminated.

What is eyewitness misidentification?

Freedom Story: Randall Ayers

The case of Randall Lynn Ayers calls attention to a wrongful conviction based solely on eyewitness misidentification.


On November 11, 1981, a 15-year-old girl in the Westwood neighborhood of Cincinnati, Ohio, was dragged into a vacant lot where she was raped, robbed, and shot in the back of the neck. The victim survived and on December 15, 1981, she noticed Randall Lynn Ayers standing around with friends at Western Hills High School. At the time, Ayers was only a 17-year-old senior in high school and an aspiring marine before he was accused of the crime.


She identified Ayers as her assailant, which then led to his arrest. At the trial, the victim identified Ayers as the man who had attacked her. Although friends of Ayers testified that he was with them during the time the crimes were committed, on March 29, 1981, a Hamilton County jury convicted Ayers of rape, aggravated robbery and attempted aggravated murder. Ayers was sentenced to 14 to 50 years in prison. After spending 8 years in prison, an accused serial murderer and rapist, Robert Minton, 29, confessed to being the actual assailant and told details of the crime that have never been made public.


Prosecutors brought the victim to the Hamilton County Justice Center so that she could look at Ayers and Minton standing side by side. The victim could not point out which of the two men attacked her. On July 20, 1990, Ayers was released from prison after charges were dismissed due to Minton’s confession. On December, 1990, Ayers was compensated for his wrongful conviction and incarceration with $365,000 by the Ohio Court of Claims.

additional resources

Want to learn more about eyewitnessmisidentification? Check out a few of the resources below!


Psychologist Elizabeth Loftus studies memories. More precisely, she studies false memories, when people either remember things that didn't happen or remember them differently from the way they really were. In this TED Talk,  Loftus shares some startling stories and statistics, and raises some important ethical questions we should all remember to consider.
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