Los Angeles, California, USA: In 1984, at the age of 29, Andrew Wilson (now 63) was arrested and wrongfully convicted of the robbery felony-murder of Christopher Hanson, a crime he did not commit. Andrew Wilson was sentenced to life in prison and spent more than three decades behind bars before a judge threw out his conviction and he was freed last year.
Andrew Wilson has filed a lawsuit against a detective who he believes led a witness to identify him as a killer.
Wilson was convicted of murder in the 1980s and believes witness leading by Los Angeles Police Department Detective Richard Marks is to blame.
Marks, who is now retired, later described Wilson as a “thug” because he had had run-ins with the law pertaining to drugs.
“You took 32 years of my life,” Wilson, who has always denied the charges against him, said recently.
On Oct. 23, 1984, 21-year-old Christopher Hanson was stabbed to death during a robbery. His girlfriend, Saladena Bishop, was with him at the time; the pair was sleeping in Hanson’s pickup truck in South L.A. Bishop, 17, was not hurt.
According to The National Reigstery of Exonerations:
The following day, Saladena Bishop looked through more than 1,500 police mug shot photos and selected a photograph of Johnny McKinney as the man at the passenger side of the truck. However, that was wrong — McKinney was in jail at the time of the crime. Among the photographs she viewed, but did not select, was that of 29-year-old Andrew Wilson.
On October 25, 1984, Bishop returned to the police station and went through the same photo books again. This time, she identified the photograph of Marshaunt Jackson as a man who had an altercation with Hanson four days before the murder. Again, she passed over the photograph of Andrew Wilson.
One month and two false IDs later, Bishop leafed through mugshots again. Detective Marks showed her 16 photos.
He pointed to the picture of Andrew Wilson in particular, and said, “What about him?”
Bishop was now almost positive this was the man who killed her boyfriend.
Wilson, who always maintained his innocence, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in a case that relied almost entirely on the witness’ identification.
The method Marks employed in this case — and others — is largely viewed as controversial; some police departments have eliminated it entirely. Some are instead adopting a double-blind method, in which neither the officer conducting the lineup is not aware of what picture the witness is looking at while he or she makes an ID.
Wilson’s lawsuit against the former detective, as well as the city and county of Los Angeles, alleges that Marks’ actions were unconstitutional and that the district attorney’s office for years failed to protect the rights of criminal suspects.
According to the Innocence Project, of the wrongful convictions that have been overturned thanks to DNA in the United States, about 71 percent were the result of a mistaken eyewitness identification.
“In a standard lineup, the lineup administrator typically knows who the suspect is. Research shows that administrators often provide unintentional cues to the eyewitness about which person to pick from the lineup,” the Innocence Project states.
Or, in Marks’ case, some people may provide intentional cues.
Marks has been accused of similar conduct before, Wilson learned in 2014, while still in jail, when an attorney contacted him.
“The attorney wrote that he represented another man serving life for murder, and that an eyewitness had recently recanted, saying Marks and his partner had coerced a false identification. Marks denied any wrongdoing in that case,” the LA Times reported.
Marks told The Times he “has a clear conscience.” He was also not too invested in whether or not Bishop’s ID may have been shaky.
In an interview two years ago, attorneys from Loyola Law School, who took on Wilson’s case, asked Marks if Bishop may have recognized Wilson because she used to baby-sit his children. Marks said this was, of course, possible.
“Were you concerned about that?” asked a prosecutor.
“I wouldn’t say that I was concerned,” Marks replied.
Last year, a record 37 people were exonerated in cases based, at least in part, on bad eyewitness identifications, according to a national database.
To address the problem, a California commission more than a decade ago urged police to stop having lead detectives show witnesses an array of photographs of possible suspects side by side. Instead, the panel recommended adopting a “double-blind” procedure, in which an officer who doesn’t know which picture belongs to the suspect shows the witness a series of photographs one after the other.
Advocates of the method say it prevents officers from even unconsciously steering a witness to a particular photograph. Several law enforcement agencies, including those in North Carolina and New Jersey, as well as the San Francisco Police Department and law enforcement in Santa Clara County, have switched to the method. But others, including the LAPD, have been reluctant to adopt the double-blind method and still allow case investigators to handle lineups.
Earlier this year, labor unions representing prosecutors and the LAPD’s rank-and-file opposed a bill that would require the practice.
The police union said it believes the proposed law would lead to fewer solved crimes, arguing that witnesses and victims “will be unwilling to freely offer information to anyone they do not know, trust or feel comfortable with,” according to state documents.
The way Marks directed the witness to Wilson’s photo — a practice he said he used at times throughout his career — is an overt example of how eyewitness identification can go wrong.
After his retirement in 2008, Marks did consulting work for the district attorney’s office, reviewing evidence and offering his opinion in at least two high-profile police shootings — which ultimately ended in prosecutors declining to file charges against the officers in either case.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the pending litigation; the LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.
From behind bars, Wilson in 1999 filed an official complaint about Marks with the LAPD, according to the lawsuit.
But the first sign of hope didn’t come until August 2014, when he got a letter from a deputy federal public defender. The attorney wrote that he represented another man serving life for murder, and that an eyewitness had recently recanted, saying Marks and his partner had coerced a false identification. Marks denied any wrongdoing in that case.
Not long after, the attorney visited Wilson in prison and alerted Loyola Law School’s innocence project, which championed the case.
Loyola lawyers tracked down the trial prosecutor, Laura Aalto, who in July 2016 signed a declaration saying she’d long felt “uneasy” about the prosecution. Aalto wrote that during Wilson’s trial, she wasn’t aware Marks had directed the witness during the photo lineup.
“I do not know,” she wrote, “how any detective could have thought that was a legitimate way to conduct an identification procedure, even in 1984.”
Five months later, Marks sat down for a recorded interview with Wilson’s lawyers and a deputy district attorney.
The detective said he considered Wilson a “thug,” clarifying he meant someone who committed crimes to support a drug habit. During the interview, the prosecutor asked Marks what he had meant years earlier, when he wrote in an affidavit that he had “directed” the eyewitness to Wilson’s photo.
“Just exactly what it says,” Marks responded, saying he asked her to look at a picture of Wilson and asked something along the lines of “What about him?”
Marks said he intentionally made a record of having directed the witness, as he figured it would be an issue requiring litigation before trial. In the affidavit attached to an arrest warrant, Marks wrote that he had included photographs of Wilson and another man, who was initially arrested as a co-defendant. While looking at the photos, Marks wrote, the witness “hesitated” over a photo of the other man, saying she would need to see a live lineup.
“She then eliminated several other photos,” Marks wrote, adding that he then “directed her attention to Wilson’s photo, which she then identified with 80% confidence.”
During an interview this week, Marks stressed that a judge ultimately signed the arrest warrant and that his affidavit was in the case documents he gave the prosecutor.
“This isn’t something that was buried,” he said.
Wilson’s lawsuit contends that the defense never got a copy of Marks’ affidavit, but the retired detective said he “can’t conceive” of that notion, saying he recalled one of Wilson’s attorneys coming to the police station with a portable device to make copies of sections of the case evidence. (The attorney, Jim Barnes, doesn’t specifically recall the case, but said neither he nor his office had portable copiers during the 1980s, according to the lawsuit.)
During the 2016 interview with the Loyola lawyers, Marks said that at a subsequent live lineup, Bishop recalled that she knew Wilson’s face from before — she had babysat for his daughter, records show.
Was it possible, the prosecutor asked, that the witness identified Wilson because she’d recognized him from earlier?
“Is it a possibility?” Marks said. “Yeah.”
“Were you concerned about that?” the prosecutor asked.
“I wouldn’t say that I was concerned,” Marks said.