In August 1991, at a nightclub in New York City, Raymond Blount punched Efrain Lopez. Lopez told a man from his neighborhood about the incident, and when Blount and his friends came out of the club prepared for a fight, the man shot and killed Blount. Police showed mug shots of Hispanic men to a group of Blount’s friends, and left them to deliberate together about the identification. The men identified Fernando Bermudez as the shooter.
Lopez initially told police that the shooting was committed by a man named “Wool Lou,” a former classmate. Though police could have identified “Wool Lou” as Louis Munoz, they failed to follow up on this statement. Bermudez was brought in for a lineup, although he was taller and heavier than the descriptions originally provided by witnesses. Police told the men in the lineup to sit down so their height was not noticeable. All but one witness identified Bermudez as the shooter. The witness who did not identify Bermudez was not asked to testify. Lopez, fearing that he himself would be charged with Blount’s murder, eventually told police that Bermudez was “Wool Lou,” although Bermudez was not a former classmate of his and did not live in his neighborhood.
After testimony from Lopez and four of Blount’s friends, a jury convicted Bermudez of second-degree murder in February 1992, and he was sentenced to 23-years-to-life. In 1993, all five witnesses recanted their identifications, saying they were pressured by police to identify Bermudez. Bermudez’s post-conviction appeals failed until November 2009 when a state Supreme Court judge overturned Bermudez’s conviction and dismissed the charges with prejudice because the new evidence undermined the conviction, and because the collective identification procedure used by police damaged any possible identification testimony from the eyewitnesses.
- Stephanie Denzel