A San Francisco jury has decided that there wasn't enough evidence to convict 26-year-old Clifton Moore of assaulting a patron at the San Francisco library last year.
According to the Public Defender's Office, the jury concluded that Moore was the victim of mistaken identity after multiple witnesses gave starkly different descriptions of the attacker.
On Sept. 11, 2013, a 61-year-old homeless man was sitting at a computer terminal at the San Francisco Main library when someone struck him from behind with a chair. The victim, who did not see his attacker, was left with a deep cut to his scalp.
Minutes after the attack, four witnesses, provided police with very different written descriptions of the attacker, according to the Public Defender's Office. Still, library security detained Moore and he was quickly arrested after those same witnesses identified him in a "cold show," meaning officers would show the detained person to witnesses and say: "is this the guy?"
Per the Public Defender's Office:
The first witness wrote that he saw the attack, but could not describe the attacker. The second witness described the assailant as a black man wearing brown pants while the third witness described him as a white man wearing shorts and a hoodie. The fourth witness said the attacker was a black man wearing shorts and a hoodie. By the time they identified Moore in the cold show an hour later, the witnesses had discussed the suspect, "helping" each other with the details, a witness testified during Moore's trial. In police interviews the day after the attack, all four witnesses had changed their initial descriptions of the suspect to that of a black man wearing green shorts.
Defense attorneys brought in Geoffrey Loftus, an eyewitness identification expert, who testified that when witnesses hear second-hand information following an incident, that post-event information easily becomes jumbled with their recollections. The more the post-event information is discussed and repeated, Loftus testified, the more believable it becomes to witnesses, even if it contradicts their initial impressions.
"You cannot always believe your eyes," said Deputy Public Defender Jacque Wilson. "Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable and memory is easily shaped. Fortunately, the jurors looked at the facts and set Mr. Moore free."
If convicted, Moore was facing up to nine years in state prison.
Since we're on the topic: Now might be a good time to brush up on the library rules now.