Sometimes, it seems like the police don’t follow evidence at all. They seem almost determined to identify a suspect. “Who looks good for this crime?” they might ask. They sometimes get tunnel vision, looking for evidence the suspect is guilty and dismissing evidence of innocence.
When an eyewitness described the perpetrator of a 2004 Minneapolis murder, she described a Black man, 19-22, weighing about 180 pounds, with cropped hair.
The initial lineup must have been frustrating. Eyewitness testimony is not all that reliable in the first place. In this case, the witness only felt 75-80% confident in her identification. Then that man had an alibi, leading them nowhere.
After the frustrating first lineup, the police apparently picked Marvin Haynes, a slim 16-year-old with an Afro, as their main suspect.
To remedy the fact that Marvin had an Afro instead of cropped hair, they used a two-year-old photo of Marvin when his hair was shorter. They then performed what a judge called an “unnecessarily suggestive” photo lineup. The eyewitness identified him.
It’s hard to say why the police picked Marvin, but they must have been determined to convict him. There was no physical evidence tying Marvin to the crime, according to the Equal Justice Initiative’s description of the case, but that didn’t give them any pause.
The police then coerced two 14-year-old boys into implicating Marvin by threatening them with prosecution, according to defense affidavits. They kept one of the boys in a jail cell overnight as part of the coercion. The boys, now adults, have long recanted their statements implicating Marvin.
On the basis of the sketchy eyewitness ID and the two boys’ statements, Marvin was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He served 19 years before he was exonerated.
Recently, the Minneapolis prosecutor’s office agreed that Marvin had been wrongly prosecuted and convicted. The office explicitly agreed that Marvin is entirely innocent. It also acknowledged that the real killer remains free.
The case against Marvin has been vacated and Marvin has been released. He expressed his long-held confidence that he would one day be given justice. His family shared his confidence and spent all of their savings on the effort to exonerate him. Marvin is seeking compensation for his wrongful arrest and conviction from the state of Minnesota.