Unlikely team attempting to reform eyewitness identification program

ILLINOIS - Like a walk down memory lane...

"I served 31 years."

Men - remembering time they'll never get back.

"21 years."

What do they have in common?  All of these men were wrongly convicted, putting them behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.

"I served 20 years in the Department of Corrections.”

 All of these men have heart wrenching stories, but none received the national attention of the evening's key note speaker - Ronald Cotton.   In 1984 - he was accused of sexually assaulting Jennifer Thompson-Cannico, a college student at the time.  When she described the offender's appearance to police, it seemed to match Ron's, whose mug shot was on file from run-ins with the law.

Police put him in a line-up with 6 others, and Jennifer identified him as the attacker because it was the closest match to the sketch the investigator drew from her description.  Ron spent 11 years in prison until a DNA test proved he wasn't the offender.

"Two years went by, and I was paralyzed and suffocating on fear and guilt.”

The only thing that would make her feel whole again? Forgiveness.

"We both met.  I asked if he could forgive me, and he immediately, without hesitation, said he'd already done that years before."

That's when Jennifer and Ron started their journey to reform the eyewitness identification process, by telling their story at events around the country.  They were invited to Springfield on Wednesday by the Innocence Project, a public policy organization that, in the past 4 years, has helped 5 men find freedom after wrongful convictions.

"You try to make an I.D. of the person you saw that drove by and shot somebody for in 2 to 3 seconds. It makes complete sense why this is such a failure."

Ron wants people to know they can seek help from programs like the Innocence Project if they think someone has been wrongfully convicted.

"Never give up, you know? Just fight. Fight for your right, because one day the truth will prevail."

To date, more than 300 people in the U.S. have been exonerated by DNA testing.

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