Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office is to be commended for not opposing Frederick Clay’s motion for a new trial and deciding not to retry him for the 1979 murder of Jeffrey Boyajian (“After decades behind bars, unqualified freedom,” Page A1, Aug. 9). Clay’s conviction depended heavily on eyewitness identifications that were highly problematic — one by a cabdriver who, after being hypnotized, said Clay was one of three men who approached him earlier in the evening for a ride to the area where Boyajian was shot, and another by a developmentally disabled man who, after initially saying he couldn’t make out in the darkness from his apartment 75 feet away the man who shot Boyajian, later identified Clay as the shooter.
The Innocence Project reports that eyewitness misidentifications are, by far, the most frequent cause of wrongful convictions. Since he took office in 2002, Conley has taken important steps to reduce the likelihood of misidentifications by changing the procedure by which identifications are obtained and educating police and prosecutors about best practices. And he created the state’s first conviction integrity unit. It was that unit which, at the request of Clay’s lawyers, took another look at the evidence that led to his conviction.
The writer served on Connecticut’s Eyewitness Identification Task Force, which proposed legislation in 2012 that improved the identification procedure throughout the state.