Grainy surveillance video, a stale eyewitness account, and a circumstantial DNA test were sufficient for authorities to charge 24-year-old Jeffery Freeman with an October 2014 murder. How will that evidence hold up in court?
Police say that fellow gang members prompted Mr. Freeman to confront Torrence Pickens for allegedly violating gang territory. Video from a nearby apartment complex captured footage of a man who matches Mr. Freeman’s description wielding a pistol and smoking a cigarette as he approached Mr. Pickens. The man with the gun fired several shots and fled the scene. A witness, who was with Mr. Pickens at the time, insists that Mr. Freeman was the shooter, and police say that a discarded cigarette butt with Mr. Freeman’s DNA confirms that he was at the scene.
Authorities did not explain why it took them almost three years to review video footage and interview a material witness.
Attacking the Evidence in Criminal Cases
In cases based on circumstantial evidence, prosecutors often use some variation of the “bricks in a wall” argument to convince jurors that the cumulative effect of the sketch evidence supports a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Truth be told, this tactic is often successful. So, it is up to a defense attorney to point out that if the wall contains even one defective brick, that wall will quickly collapse.
Surveillance video is often effective in civil court because of the low standard of proof. For example, if video shows a white sedan caused a hit-and-run crash and the defendant drives a white sedan, the jury can conclude that, more likely than not, the defendant drove the hit-and-run vehicle.
But the standard of proof in criminal court is beyond a reasonable doubt, and in this case, the video only proves that a young African American man pulled the trigger.
Next, consider the eyewitness account in the above story. This testimony is probably the strongest bit of evidence. By the time the case goes to trial about a year from now, that witness will testify about someone he saw for two or three seconds four years ago during a period of extreme emotional stress. One life has already been ruined, and that story is not a solid reason to ruin another one.
Finally, consider the DNA evidence, and the prosecutor will almost certainly argue that the sample puts Mr. Freeman at the scene. The half-life of a DNA strand is 521 years, so the discarded butt only establishes that, sometime during his life, Mr. Freeman smoked a cigarette somewhere close to that location.
Mr. Freeman was roughly 21 at the time of the shooting, and most peoples’ brains do not fully develop until they are in their late 30s or early 40s. This scientific fact is of little help in general intent cases, like simple battery. However, in specific intent cases, the defendant can call an expert witness who may testify that the defendant’s underdeveloped brain could not make that second logical leap. For this reason, defendants who were intoxicated cannot commit a specific intent crime as a matter of law.
Contact Assertive Attorneys
Undermining the state’s evidence is often the most successful defense strategy. For a confidential consultation with an experienced criminal law attorney in Schaumburg, contact Glasgow & Olsson.
(image courtesy of Daniel Von Appen)