Psychology and Law: An Empirical Perspective

By Neil Brewer; Kipling D. Williams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVEN
False Memories

MATTHEW P. GERRIE

MARYANNE GARRY

ELIZABETH F. LOFTUS

In the fall of 1985, a man raped three young teenage girls in three separate incidents, beating them and cursing at them. Two other girls managed to escape before they could be raped. Three days after the last attack, the police visited the home of a young girl, after receiving a complaint that a man was peering into her bedroom window. They searched the nearby area, saw Lonnie Erby, and arrested him for the rape a few days earlier. The next week, all of the girls identified Erby in photographic and live lineups. He was convicted of the three rapes in the era before DNA testing. But when it became available, in 1988, he asked for it. In 1995, the Innocence Project began asking for DNA testing, which the prosecutor opposed as needlessly intrusive and expensive. Eight years later, the judge ordered that DNA testing be carried out, and on August 25, 2003, Lonnie Erby was exonerated—the 136th person the Innocence Project has helped to set free. He lost 17 years of his life in a Missouri prison, a mistake for which the state thus far has offered only an apology (for more information on this case and on the Innocence Project, see www.innocenceproject.org).

When the Innocence Project workers took a closer look at their first 70 exonerations, they discovered that in over half of the cases, an eyewitness memory error had led to the wrongful conviction. This finding makes it all the more imperative that we learn what the scientific literature tells us about eyewitness memory. In this chapter, we review the research and show that we can develop false memories for events we see and experiences we have performed, for aspects of events, and even whole events themselves. As we shall see, one

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