Video Analysis Software Helps Secure New Trial for Case

Spokane, Wash. – July 1, 2019
Video examination software for police investigators, iNPUT-ACE, has helped secure a new trial for a man believed to be falsely convicted of aggravated robbery in 2008 in Bell County, Texas. The case, which has gained national attention, was featured on the first episode of Exhibit A, a provocative crime documentary series that premiered on Netflix on June 28.

During the first case of the season, the program unravels how the prosecution won its conviction in part from questionable expert testimony that used video from the scene to estimate the robber’s height at just over 6 feet 1 inch tall. George Powell, the Texas man ultimately convicted of the crime, is 6 feet 3 inches tall.

Several years after the conviction, the Texas Forensic Science Commission had concerns about the reliability of the video evidence used at trial, and hired Grant Fredericks, director of law enforcement training for iNPUT-ACE, to conduct a scientific review of the original height analysis work.

“First, I was evaluating the methodology used during the initial court proceeding,” Fredericks explained. “The expert witness didn’t have any prior experience in video analysis, he didn’t have the right tools, and he didn’t have any training on the tools he used.”

While there were hundreds of images available, the prosecution’s video expert chose to examine only one image. Fredericks used the video examinations software to access all the proprietary digital video footage from the incident. “iNPUT-ACE provided us with hundreds of images from multiple cameras that gave much more reliable information than what the trial expert relied on,” he said.

Fredericks also used Camera Match Overlay—one of iNPUT-ACE’s built-in tools that calculates positions, distances, height, and other measurements of objects in video images—to conduct a process known as reverse projection photogrammetry. His analysis concluded the robber was only 5 feet 7 inches tall, positively excluding Powell as the suspect.

When the new analysis was complete, the commission was so disturbed by what Fredericks discovered that it sent his report to the Innocence Project of Texas, which now represents Powell. “What the jury heard from the prosecutor’s expert was worse than poor forensic evidence, it was completely misleading and fraudulent forensic science,” said Mike Ware, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas. “I’ve learned that in the hands of the wrong person masquerading as an expert, forensic video can be very dangerous. In the hands of a qualified expert, it can be enlightening and help courts get to the truth.”

While the Exhibit A episode does not have a Hollywood happy ending, Powell’s conviction was set aside by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals two days before the episode aired, and Powell was granted a new trial. Fredericks stressed the importance of providing investigators with the right tools and proper training to examine potential video evidence.

“Sometimes, investigators fall into the trap of believing video is a silent witness that speaks for itself,” he said. “The process should always start with the interrogation of the video images to ensure they are fit for the forensic purpose of the case. Proper tools and training prevents these kinds of errors – they prevent innocent people like George Powell from going to jail.”

 
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