On June 28, 2003, 25-year-old Eugene Monteiro and four friends attempted to enter Mike’s Lounge, a bar in Massachusetts.  They were denied entry because one of them was under the legal drinking age.  As they stood outside the bar, trying to figure out where to go next to hang out, a Hispanic man wearing a red t-shirt yelled, “No n****** allowed.”  Monteiro, who is African American, as were all his friends, yelled back, “What’s your problem?”  The man then ran away, but returned and confronted Monteiro.  Monteiro asked the man if he had “toast” (street slang for a weapon).  The man raised his shirt and pulled out a handgun.  Monteiro ran, but nine shots were fired.  Monteiro was hit three times and collapsed in front of the bar.  He died moments later.  His friends, McKenzie Bruneau, Raymond Jenkins, Thomas Johnson, and David Thomas all ran.  The bar was two blocks from the police station and officers responded in less than a minute.  When the shots stopped, three of his friends returned.

Bruneau told police that he saw a man whose face he couldn’t see run down an alley next to the bar.  Bruneau said the man wore “white sneakers with a red check.”  He also told police the man who confronted them outside the bar looked “Spanish or Cape Verdean” and was wearing “some type of…red shirt, some red and white sneakers, all white with red checks on it [and] dark blue jeans.”  Johnson’s statement said that the gunman was wearing a red and white shirt, a red bandana, and red and white sneakers.  He had short hair and a mustache.  He also wore a red headband, jeans, and a gold chain.  A woman who witnessed the attack while stopped nearby at a redlight said she was unable to see the gunman’s face, but he appeared to be African American, slim, about 5’ 10”, short hair, and “baggy clothes” that included a red shirt and blue jeans.

Police locked down the bar and prevented anyone from leaving.  They brought Bruneau and Johnson inside and asked them if anyone there was the gunman.  They said they didn’t see him.  Only two men in the 40 people in the bar were wearing red shirts.  Police then allowed the customers to leave the bar after being searched for a weapon.  No weapons were recovered.  The whole process was videotaped.

About two weeks later, police determined, after studying the video, that one of the customers, 28-year-old Jesus Silva-Santiago fit the description of a Hispanic gunman wearing a red shirt.  Officers showed the Bruneau, Johnson, and Jenkins a photo lineup including Silva-Santiago’s picture.  Even though Bruneau and Johnson didn’t identify him previously, their answers were different this time.  Johnson said that he was “most similar” out of everyone, but he couldn’t say for sure.  Bruneau said, “that looks just like the guy” and pointed to Silva-Santiago.  Jenkins said that Silva-Santiago was “the most familiar” looking person.

Based on these shaky identifications, Silva-Santiago was arrested and charged with first-degree murder.  Officers confiscated his white sneakers with a red Nike swish as evidence and a red shirt made by Ecko, a popular urban clothing style associated with the hip-hop culture in the area.  Gunshot residue and blood testing all came back negative, but prosecutors proceeded with trial.  Three years later, in the summer of 2006, Silva-Santiago stood trial for the murder of Eugene Monteiro.  Only Johnson positively made a courtroom identification in front of the jury.  He testified that he also made a positive identification at lineup.  Remember, Johnson told police that Silva-Santiago was “most similar” to the gunman in the lineup, not the gunman himself.  He said he couldn’t recall being unsure when defense attorneys impeached him using grand jury testimony in which he admitted being unsure whether Silva-Santiago was the gunman.

Bruneau told the jury that, “I said [at the time of lineup] I recognized the shooter but I told them I had a glance. I didn’t really see his face but I had got a glance at the man. And I had…told them that number seven looked like—a lot like the shooter.”          

Jenkins told the jury,  he said “Yeah, I guess so. I mean, yeah, I said, ‘Yes.’” in response to being shown the lineup and being asked if anyone looked familiar.

Silva-Santiago chose not to testify.  A customer at the bar testified that he saw Silva-Santiago talking with three girls at the time the shots were fired.  Silva-Santiago was none-the-less convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.  3 years later, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts reversed his conviction and granted him a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury why witnesses failed to identify Silva-Santiago when they went into the bar,

“Doesn’t it make sense that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t in a position, given their frame of minds, to calmly look around the bar that had about thirty-five, forty, forty-five people in it to try to make an identification? Doesn’t it make sense that even if they did, even if they saw everybody in the bar and saw the shooter, they were maybe too scared to identify him, given what they had just seen?”

The court ruled that there was no evidence that the witnesses were in fear of their life at the time and it was improper to imply to the jury that they were.  Silva-Santiago got his second trial in 2010.  His new defense attorney, John Amabile, questioned the three eyewitnesses about the lineups conducted by police and showed the jury how none of the eyewitnesses had positively or definitively identified Silva-Santiago.  He also asked Bruneau and Johsons, “Was the person who shot your friend in the bar?”  They both told the jury no despite the fact that Silva-Santiago was in the bar and one of only two men wearing red shirts that night.  Johnson told the jury at the second trial he was sure that the gunman wasn’t wearing an Ecko brand shirt, the shirt Silva-Santiago was wearing.  When shown the shirt, he positively said that was not the shirt worn by the killer.

On August 12, 2010, the jury acquitted Silva-Santiago.  Silva-Santiago was denied compensation because he was acquitted at trial rather than technically legally exonerated under the law.   Silva-Santiago served about 3 years in prison for a crime the jury said he didn’t commit.

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Comments
  1. Lon Spector says:

    Witness identification is notoriously flawed. There was a book written about that some
    years ago called “The Man In The Gorilla Suit.” The premise of the book was that in the
    midst of excitement, people miss seeing things right in front of thier eyes.

    Like

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