Eyewitness Identification Research Laboratory
At the University of Texas at El Paso

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Tony Ford is residing on Death Row in Texas awaiting execution. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals denied his appeal. One of the issues in the appeal was denial of funds to hire Professor Malpass to testify as an expert concerning the eyewitness identification issues in the case.

Mr. Fords' appelate attorneys asked Professor Malpass and the Eyewitness Lab to evaluate the lineup used in the investigation that resulted in his identification, and to do certain other studies concerning the identification issues. We began with an evaluation of the lineup, based on the principles and procedures described in previous pages on this section of the Labs website.

The witnesses in this case produced extremely impoverished verbal descriptions of the perpetrator.  It is not possible to determine whether this results from their having gotten only poor visual exposure to the perpetrator during the event, thus having little information on which to base a description, or whether it resulted from a lack of attention to getting a verbal description on the part of law enforcement’s first responders, and subsequently by the investigators.

Since no useful verbal descriptions were available in the record, we elicited verbal descriptions from 20 UTEP students recruited as participants specifically for this purpose. We showed these participants the lineup photo of Mr. Ford and gave them this instruction:

“Please write a description of this person in enough detail so that someone else could identify him on the basis of the description.”

From the resulting descriptions we compiled the following composite description, using the most frequently mentioned descriptor provided in each of the facial feature categories:

African American male in his early 20’s with dark hair.
An oval face and broad forehead. 
Small, dark eyes and thin eyebrows. 
A wide nose, thick lips and small protruding ears.

 

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