Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

Joseph Reichert

Other Robberies with Mistaken Witness ID
https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/PublishingImages/King_County_WA.jpg
Shortly after 1 a.m. on August 25, 2000, a man wearing a stocking cap pulled down over his head robbed a cashier at knifepoint at Ralph’s Grocery and Deli on 4th Avenue in Seattle, Washington. The robber ran into a nearby alley and jumped into a truck that sped off.

Iain McCarron, an employee, told police that he was standing outside smoking a cigarette when the man asked if the deli was still making sandwiches. McCarron said he told the man he would make him one as soon as he finished his cigarette. McCarron said that when he went inside, he saw the man standing near the wine section.

When McCarron went into the bathroom, the man walked behind the deli counter, where Colin Bush was working with his back turned. The robber pulled a knife and held it to Bush’s throat, saying, “Give me the money, I’ll cut your throat.” Bush told police he opened the cash register, and the robber scooped out the paper money and ran.

A customer ran outside and saw the robber get into a truck as Bush called 911. The robber was described as Hispanic, 5 feet 8 inches tall, and 150 pounds. Later that day, the storeowner, Joe Cohen, provided a surveillance video that showed the robber behind the counter confronting Bush. No fingerprints were found on the cash register or the counter.

Four days later, on August 29, a Seattle police detective made a still image of one of the video surveillance frames and created a bulletin to circulate. That same day, 20-year-old Joseph Reichert traveled from his home in Bremerton, Washington to hear live music at the Crocodile Café, located only a few blocks from Ralph’s.

Before the show, Reichert and some friends stopped by Ralph’s. Reichert had worked there until July 10, 2000—about six weeks prior to the robbery. While there, Reichert spoke with Jack Hayes, a Ralph’s employee he had worked with. Although Hayes had seen the police bulletin, he did not mention it to Reichert.

On September 11, 2000, Joe Cohen called the police and said that Hayes and another employee believed the photograph in the bulletin looked like Reichert. Police created a photographic lineup that contained Reichert’s picture. On October 3, Bush viewed the lineup and identified Reichert as the robber. On October 10, 2000, McCarron—the employee who first encountered the robber while smoking a cigarette—identified Reichert as well.

Reichert was arrested on October 11, 2000 and charged with first-degree armed robbery. He went to trial in King County Superior Court in July 2001. McCarron and Bush identified him as the robber. Four still photos from the surveillance video were presented to the jury. The time stamps on the photos showed that only six seconds elapsed from the robber pulling the knife on Bush and fleeing with the cash.

Four members of Reichert’s family testified that he was home at the time of the crime. On July 17, 2001, the jury convicted Reichert of first-degree armed robbery.

Prior to sentencing, Reichert’s lawyer withdrew to take a job as a prosecutor in Snohomish County. On October 19, 2001, when Reichert appeared for sentencing, Judge Michael J. Fox entered an order allowing Reichert to obtain an expert to review the surveillance tape.

Judge Fox declared, “The videotape—to me—I mean just sitting here and watching it like many of the jurors did, I know I would not have been able to identify Mr. Reichert, frankly, or anyone else in that videotape.”

Ultimately, James Koenig was appointed to represent Reichert—the four attorney to be assigned to the case. In June 2002, Kelli Maguire, an investigator for Reichert, visited the crime scene, interviewed witnesses, and took measurements.

McCarron, the eye witness who spoke with the suspect outside of the deli prior to the robbery, described the suspect as very short, between 5 feet 4 inches and 5 feet six inches tall at the most. The counter at the deli measured 2 feet 11 ¼ inches high.

On June 27, 2002, Maguire visited Reichert who was in custody and determined that the counter would not reach the small of Reichert’s back. A review of the surveillance photos showed the counter easily reached the small of the back of the robber.

In May 2002, Koenig filed a motion for a new trial based on the failure of Reichert’s trial attorney to obtain an expert in eyewitness identification. He also presented the evidence based on Maguire’s re-investigation of the crime scene and the surveillance video. In addition, Jon Norby, a forensic analyst, prepared a report saying that based on the photographs, the robber was about 5 feet 4 inches tall and no more than 5 feet 5 inches tall. Reichert was 5 feet 9 inches tall. Norby’s report said that the counter would have been much lower than the small of Reichert’s back.

On March 31, 2003, Reichert was released on bond. On November 20, 2003, the judge granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Reichert’s conviction. The prosecution then dismissed the charge.

In 2016, after the state of Washington passed legislation allowing for wrongly convicted individuals to seek compensation, Reichert filed a lawsuit for the 902 days he spent in custody, including 280 days prior to conviction. However, the claim was denied in July 2017 because the statute only allows compensation to people who were convicted and sentenced. Reichert was exonerated prior to being sentenced.

– Maurice Possley

Report an error or add more information about this case.

Posting Date: 9/5/2017
Last Updated: 6/29/2020
State:Washington
County:King
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2000
Convicted:2001
Exonerated:2003
Sentence:Not sentenced
Race:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No