Senate panel considers changes to eyewitness procedures

Monday, February 24, 2014 | 11:59 p.m. CST; updated 6:50 a.m. CST, Tuesday, February 25, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri Senate Judiciary Committee is considering a bill that would compel law enforcement agencies to enumerate specific procedures for gathering eyewitness testimony.

The only specific mandates in SB 732 are videotaping most interrogations and preserving biological evidence for a standard amount of time based on what type of material it is.

Beyond these conditions, however, the bill doesn't oblige law enforcement agencies to adopt any particular procedures for eyewitness testimony — but there are plenty of suggestions, such as administering a photo lineup by an officer who either doesn't know who the suspect is or doesn't know which photo the witness is viewing.

Josh Kezer and Bill Ferguson, Ryan Ferguson's father, were among the parade of victims, prosecuting attorneys, public defenders and professors who testified Monday night in front of the senate committee.

Kezer and Ryan Ferguson were each convicted of murder and imprisoned for years in Missouri before having convictions overturned or vacated and being released. 

Kezer spent 16 years in prison for the murder of Southeast Missouri University student Angela Mischelle Lawless. He was exonerated in 2009 after a Cole County judge ruled that prosecutors withheld essential evidence. 

Kezer is convinced that had this bill been law years ago, he would never have been arrested.

"I'd like to make myself very clear: I'm not here for me. I'm here for Angela Mischelle Lawless," he said. "I'm here because witness identification was misused in my case."

Paul Litton, a law professor at MU, stressed that this bill is pro-victim and pro-public safety. 

Litton was chairman of an assessment team that put together a study for SB 732. The task force made recommendations for minimizing the risk of wrongful convictions. Litton said that 75 percent of wrongful convictions involve mistaken identification. 

But Kim Case pointed out that because of the current criminal procedures in Missouri — especially the procedures for eyewitness testimony — her four assailants are in prison today.

She was followed by four men on a spring day, kidnapped and held captive for 16 hours.

In her case, a line-up worked. She doesn't want the current procedures changed. She's afraid that important evidence will be excluded in these cases. 

Supervising editor is Adam Aton.

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