Oklahoma County prosecutors have dropped all charges against a man they initially said murdered a man because of a Facebook comment. Just a few days before the murder trial of Antwion Courtez Martin, 22, was set to begin, prosecutors dropped the charges of first degree murder and shooting with intent to kill, questioning the validity of the eyewitness identification that sent him to jail in the first place.
Martin has remained behind bars for nearly two years awaiting the outcome of his case.
What happened to land Martin in jail since the summer of 2013? What was the motive that allegedly provoked him to murder and attempted murder that July?
On July 17, 2013, three men burst into the apartment of Edmond James Tyree, 48. A friend of Tyree, Michael Joe Hale, was also in the apartment. Hale says that right before the gunman opened fire, Tyree said that he knew the armed man. The gunman began shooting, killing Tyree and injuring Hale. According to reports, the attack was not a robbery, and nothing was stolen.
Police looking for a motive discovered it when they noticed that five days earlier, Tyree and Martin had a verbal scuffle on Facebook. Martin's girlfriend, who lived in the same apartment complex as Tyree, had posted a picture of herself in a bathing suit on Facebook. Tyree commented "damm," under the picture, prompting Martin's anger. Martin replied, "Cuz wat that f*** u mean damm."
Hale noticed the dispute several days after the shooting when he says he was looking at Tyree's Facebook profile and saw the exchange on Martin's girlfriend's page. He then identified Martin as the shooter, saying that Tyree told him that he "had been together" with the girl.
When police questioned Martin, he allegedly admitted that he "had words with" Tyree over his comment, but he denied involvement in the shooting. Indeed, it would seem to be a bit of an overreaction to kill someone simply for saying he found a woman attractive. However tenuous the motive, prosecutors spent nearly two years building a case against the defendant because of the Facebook identification of an eyewitness who likely did not get a good look at the shooter in the first place.
Eyewitness identification is a crucial piece of evidence in a criminal trial, and prosecutors and jurors lend a lot of credence to eyewitness testimony. Unfortunately, they are relying heavily on "evidence" that is notoriously unreliable. According to The Innocence Project, an organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully convicted,"Eyewitness misidentification is the greatest contributing factor to wrongful convictions proven by DNA testing, playing a role in more than 70% of convictions overturned through DNA testing nationwide."
Fortunately for Martin, prosecutors could not establish the reliability of the eyewitness identification in this case and dropped the charges before the case came to trial. For Martin, who spent two years in jail because of an unreliable identification, their realization could not have come soon enough.
Image Credit: Bhupinder Nayyar