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New technology helps appeal a Wisconsin robbery conviction: Part II

Earlier this week, we wrote that a Wisconsin man was recently granted a new trial after a 1994 conviction on two counts of armed robbery. There were inconsistencies in his conviction, including grainy footage from store surveillance cameras as well as eyewitness testimony that failed to identify him in a lineup.

Now, new technology to enhance the video footage has cast doubts on his guilt. This case shows the importance of pursuing appeals and other post-conviction motions.

Since his conviction in 1994, NASA has developed video-enhancement technology that was later used by the FBI in a number of high-profile cases. This process also provided an improved version of the surveillance footage from one of the robbed stores in Milwaukee.

After reviewing the new video, a defense expert concluded that the man in the video is several inches shorter than the one who was later convicted. Based on this evidence, the convicted man filed a motion for a new trial in 2007, seeking to end his 30-year prison sentence.

A Wisconsin circuit court originally denied the new trial, saying that the new evidence would likely be insufficient to overturn his conviction. Earlier this month, however, the state Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed the lower court's ruling.

There were several things wrong with the circuit court's ruling, the appellate court decided. First, in order to qualify for a new trial, new evidence doesn't need to completely exonerate a convicted defendant, especially if the lack of evidence hindered the criminal defense from presenting arguments during the original trial.

Furthermore, the appellate court said, it is not up to a circuit court judge to decide the reliability of new evidence. That should be decided by a jury after hearing testimony from expert witnesses.

Therefore, a new trial was granted. After some 17 years in prison, the defendant will get another day in court and another chance to prove his innocence. Or, to put it more accurately, the state will now have the difficult job of proving his guilt based on new video evidence that sheds serious doubt on the identity of the suspect.

Source: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, "New technology leads to new trial in robbery case," Bruce Vielmetti, Oct. 4, 2011

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