On a late summer evening in August of 1997, Nathan Brown was in his apartment rocking his young daughter to sleep when the police knocked on his door. The police sought Brown, one of a few Black men in his apartment complex, after a young White woman said she had been assaulted by a shirtless Black man wearing black shorts with strong body odor walking through the complex’s courtyard. Minutes later the police took Brown outside and put him in the patrol car for a one-on-one “showup.” They brought him out by himself to see the victim wearing black shorts without a shirt, and she quickly identified him as her attacker, even though he lacked a strong body odor. The victim explained later that she believed he had showered right after the attack, meaning he was her attacker. The victim again identified Brown as her attacker at trial. Though Brown took the stand in his own defense and testified that he was home at the time of the attack caring for his “fussy infant daughter”—an alibi corroborated by four of his family members—he was convicted of attempted aggravated rape and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison on the basis of the victim’s identification alone. In June 2014, Brown was exonerated of the crime when DNA evidence revealed that he could not have been the attacker. The DNA evidence was an exact match to a seventeen-year-old Black male who had been living within blocks of the apartment complex where the victim had been attacked. Nevertheless, Brown spent nearly seventeen years in prison for a crime that he did not commit.
Cross-Racial Identifications: Solutions to the "They All Look Alike" Effect,
Mich. J. Race & L.
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