Less than 30 minutes after Rebekah Kirkland was robbed at gunpoint in downtown Lexington, police told her they had a suspect.
An officer had spotted Corey Wayne Jackson, who was wearing a red ball cap, his long dreadlocks underneath, and a brown parka. It was the morning of Oct. 24, 2006, and Jackson was walking up Eastern Avenue toward Third Street. When he was stopped by the officer, Jackson told him he was walking to the Marathon gas station at Third and Martin Luther King Boulevard to break a $20 bill so he could catch the bus.
What happened next is not only a question of Jackson's innocence, but an example of what some legal experts say is a flawed process for identifying suspects.
Officers searched Jackson, then 18, but didn't find anything. He wasn't armed. All he had on him was that $20 bill.
He was handcuffed, his hands behind his back, as he stood among four white officers.
Officers then arranged a "show-up," in which police take a victim to the suspect in an effort to obtain a positive identification. The practice is frowned upon in some legal circles because show-ups can be prone to false identifications. They have been challenged in other states, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that show-ups are inherently suggestive and shouldn't be used unless necessary.
Lexington police use show-ups to identify suspects, though they don't track how often. Ideally, police officials say, they like to have either circumstantial or physical evidence in addition to a show-up identification.
On that day, Officer John Carmichael told Kirkland he would take her to identify the suspect. They were at Auto Tech Services at 211 East Second Street, not far from the parking lot where Kirkland was approached about 7:15 a.m. by a man who she said was wearing a green parka. He had poked a revolver into her midsection and made off with her purse, which contained a $5 bill, some credit cards, bank statements, keys and a cell phone.
Kirkland's husband told Carmichael that he, too, could identify the suspect. He said the description his wife gave — a 6-foot-tall black male, about 200 pounds, wearing a green coat with a fur hood — matched that of a man he'd seen in the area "more than a dozen times" over the last month. Jeff Kirkland said the guy was memorable because he had "big" or "wild" hair like an afro.
Carmichael drove Rebekah Kirkland to Third and Eastern about 7:51 a.m. When they drove up to Jackson, Carmichael said, Rebekah Kirkland mentioned for the first time that she remembered the suspect was wearing a long chain, which was connected to his belt or wallet — similar to one Jackson was wearing. She told him she remembered the chain bouncing against her knee.
After seeing Jackson, who was 6 feet tall, black and weighed about 200 pounds, Kirkland told Carmichael she was "very sure" that he was the person who robbed her.
Moments later, Carmichael drove Jeff Kirkland to the suspect. He concluded that Jackson was in fact the man he suspected to be "casing" the area.
Police arrested Jackson at 8:07 a.m..
Earlier that morning, Rebekah Kirkland had set out for work. She pulled into the parking lot next to Auto Tech Service, which, at that time, was at East Second Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, just two blocks north of Main Street.
It was about 7:15 a.m., just before sunrise.
Kirkland parked her Grand Caravan between two vehicles, cut off her engine, scooped up her purse and jacket in her left hand and opened the door. Not long after she stepped outside, she heard shuffling, as if someone was tearing across the gravel lot toward her.
"It happened really quickly," Kirkland would later testify. "Before I knew it, he was right there in front of me. He had put a gun to my stomach."
Kirkland was pinned between the vehicles. Her assailant ordered her to get back into her van. She refused.
Remembering what her father and husband taught her about guns, Kirkland grabbed the cylinder of the silver revolver, possibly a .38 caliber, and clenched it with all her might so it wouldn't fire. She screamed. She kicked. She punched. She fought to stay out of her van. And then her purse fell to the ground. Kirkland didn't have much money. Clearly, nothing as valuable as her life.
She told the man to take it and go.
The man ran toward the St. James Apartments on Deweese Street. Kirkland banged on the window outside her husband's office at Auto Tech.
An employee called the police. Jeff Kirkland grabbed his .45 and went looking for the robber.
That same morning, according to testimony, Corey Wayne Jackson left his house to take the exam for his GED at the Gainesway Empowerment Center on Centre Parkway.
The night before, Jackson said, he plied himself with caffeine and fooled around on MySpace.com into the wee hours of the morning because he was fearful that, had he lain down to go to sleep, he wouldn't have gotten up in time. He said he got off the computer about 7 a.m.
Jackson's mother, Theresa Carr, was down the hall watching Fairly OddParents with the daughter of a family friend.
Carr said she heard Corey head up to the shower. She said he left the house about 7:20 or 7:30 a.m.
Catching him before he slipped out the door, Carr told Jackson to pull the Herbie around to the front of the house. It was trash day. She had forgotten to do it the night before.
"Before he left, he came and gave me a kiss," Carr recalled. "He took the Curbie around, then stuck his head in the door and said, 'Hey momma, I'm gone.'"
Jody Stowers, a Lexington robbery and homicide detective, was on his way to work when he received a police dispatch call about an armed robbery.
Stowers, driving an unmarked cruiser, was traveling in the neighborhood where the robbery took place.
Driving south on Eastern Avenue, Stowers passed a black male wearing a red baseball cap who was walking north toward Third Street. Stowers didn't think much about the pedestrian — not until dispatch rebroadcast the description of a robbery suspect police were pursuing.
The detective circled back.
As the green Ford Crown Victoria approached, the pedestrian didn't try to flee. He didn't make any evasive moves. He just kept walking in what Stowers perceived to be his normal stride.
Stowers stopped the man, asked where he was going.
The man told the officer he just left his house and was going to the Marathon gas station at Third Street and MLK to get change for a $20 bill — the only money he had on him. He was going to catch the bus to Centre Parkway, where he hoped to prepare for the exam to get his GED. It was about 7:43 a.m.
Stowers called for additional officers. He detained Corey Jackson.
The officers went to Jackson's house.
When Carr heard the knock at the door, she figured Corey had forgotten something. But it wasn't her son.
"It was a police officer," she would testify later. They told her Corey was a robbery suspect. She told them "he didn't have time to do anything" because he had just left.
"It felt like he had only been gone 10 or 15 minutes," she recalled.
Jackson maintained his innocence, but he was indicted on a first-degree robbery charge and his case was sent to Fayette Circuit Court.
Jackson was represented by Lexington lawyer Charles A. Grundy. His fate would be decided by a jury of 10 white women and two men, one of whom was black.
During the two-day trial, Grundy said it was clear that Kirkland was assaulted. But he argued that Jackson wasn't the one responsible; rather, it was a case of mistaken identity.
Police did not have any physical evidence.
No gun. No purse. And none of the items from the purse. Jackson didn't have that $5 bill that was in Kirkland's purse; he had a $20 bill. Kirkland said her assailant wore a green coat; Jackson's was brown. Her husband said he saw a guy with "wild" hair like an afro; Jackson's hair was in dreadlocks.
There were no bystanders. No eyewitnesses. And no one who could place Corey Jackson outside 211 East Second Street, the scene of the crime.
Prosecutors built their case on the show-up, and the positive identifications made by the Kirklands.
Jackson was found guilty on July 17, 2007, and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Jackson's case is now being appealed. His attorney, Samuel Potter of the Department of Public Advocacy, wrote in the appeal that there were a number of reasons Jackson's verdict should be reversed, including the discrepancies in Jackson's identification.
He also took issue with the show-up identification, saying it was "impressively suggestive" and contained three fundamental flaws:
■ Jackson had already been handcuffed with his hands behind his back when Officer Carmichael took Rebekah Kirkland to identify him.
■ At the time of the identification, Jackson was surrounded by at least two uniformed police officers and the detective who detained him.
■ The police officers who surrounded Jackson were all white and he was black.
"It is not surprising at all that the Kirklands identified Mr. Jackson given the suggestiveness of these three flaws," Potter wrote. "Understandably, they were quite upset, having just gone through a horrendous ordeal. As they were trying to catch their breath and collect their wits, they were told by the police that they had detained a suspect."
Potter adds that officers took the Kirklands to "the only black man that was handcuffed and surrounded by white police officers" and asked if he was the suspect.
"Through no fault of their own, the Kirklands gave the answer being suggested to them," the appeal says.
In her response, Heather M. Fryman, who works in the office of criminal appeals in the attorney general's office, wrote that Rebekah Kirkland "had a good opportunity to observe her attacker" during her struggle. They were "face to face" as he tried to push her into the vehicle, Fryman wrote.
Kirkland described a coat that was a "hunting color," though testimony and court documents said green.
Fryman said other evidence indicated that Jackson was the person who attacked Kirkland. Fryman said that when Jackson was told he matched the description of a robbery suspect, he stated the victim never said he was wearing a red hat. Police said Jackson had no way of knowing Kirkland's description.
Fryman also pointed to the defense's witnesses, people who lived with Jackson and his mother. The two occupants were not able to give concrete times — one roommate was only able to state that Jackson was home until 6 a.m., well before the robbery occurred. The other had difficulty saying when Jackson left, but eventually said 7:30 a.m.. Both paid rent to Carr, Jackson's mother.
"It is not hard to imagine that these witnesses may have felt inclined to please Mrs. Carr when they made their statements," Fryman wrote.
The response says the court should not review the admissibility of the show-up identification because Jackson "failed to make any objection to testimony on the identifications" at his trial.
Show-up identifications have been at issue before. False identification rates for show-ups are greater than those for full lineups, said Zeke Edwards, an expert on witness identification.
"We discourage the use of show-ups," said Edwards, a staff attorney for The Innocence Project, based in New York.
In 2005, the Supreme Court of Wisconsin ruled that show-ups would not be admitted in court if the suspect was in handcuffs, in a police car or even shown to a witness at a police station. In 2006, a three-judge panel from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the case of a Louisville man named William Gregory who had been identified in a show-up and then exonerated by DNA evidence. The appeals judges said that the Louisville police department encouraged one-on-one show-ups knowing that they are inherently suggestive and failed to train officers conducting the show-ups to disclose evidence that a suspect may be innocent.
Eight states passed legislation last year reforming eyewitness identification procedures. In 2006 and 2007, 32 bills dealing with the issue were introduced in 17 states. Kentucky was one of six that considered proposals this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
State Rep. Kathy Stein, who was chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said she is not sure that the bill she sponsored would have taken care of problems associated with show-ups, but she said the practice is problematic.
"It taints a witness," she said.
After reviewing details of Jackson's case, Gary Wells, an Iowa State University professor who has studied the identification issue for three decades, said, "They didn't have any reason to arrest him."
"You could take any black male of that age and put him in handcuffs and I think they would have identified him, gotten a positive ID."
Wells said Jackson should not have been in handcuffs when he was shown to the victim. He said her husband as a secondary witness should have been shown a lineup with several other people or a photo lineup with multiple people — not a show-up with just one person.
Police should never have told the witnesses that Jackson was a suspect, Wells said. They should have said Jackson was a man walking down the street who fit the general description and that it might not be the person who attacked her.
It's not clear how often Lexington police rely on show-ups. But whether they're appropriate is a question best answered in court, Lexington Police Assistant Chief Mike Bosse said. "The courts will look at the totality of circumstances for each individual case," he said.
Bosse said he did not know specifics about Jackson's case.
Generally, Bosse said, investigators do not want to rely on show-ups alone.
"I think it's accurate to say the police always want other evidence — either circumstantial or physical evidence — in addition," he said. "Can a person be convicted of a crime with just a show-up? That's an issue for the courts to decide. All we can do is present the best evidence that we can get. ...A jury decides."
Jurors won't say what evidence pushed their view beyond a reasonable doubt in Corey Jackson's case. They declined to discuss the case.
Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said he couldn't discuss the case because it was being appealed.
Rebekah Kirkland declined to talk about the case. Larson's office said she is just now able to go out at night by herself.
Jackson's family has been fighting for him for the past two years.
Jackson's sister, Shawna Taylor, said the charge against her brother was not reflective of the man she helped raise. She concedes that he had brushes with the law before. Jackson was charged with fourth-degree assault in 2006 after a fight at Henry Clay High School. Jackson punched another student in the face, knocking him unconscious, according to court documents. In October 2006, 18 days before the robbery, he was arrested for third-degree criminal trespass at a relative's house, resisting arrest and carrying a concealed weapon — a loaded 9 millimeter.
Still, Taylor, 37, denies that her brother is a robber.
She's led the fight for him, starting up a Web site, freecorey.blogspot.com. Her brother, now in the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex in West Liberty, has obtained his GED.
An appeal was filed in October 2007, and the court could rule on it within 90 days.
"We're praying that it will go through," Taylor said. "All we can do is be patient."