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Quentin Abney

Other Robbery Exonerations with Mistaken Witness Identification
On June 2, 2005, at about 3:20 p.m., 13-year-old Farhana U., on her way home from school, walked down the well-lit stairs into the subway station near the corner of Essex and Delancey Streets in Manhattan, New York. As she descended, a man whom she did not know approached to about two feet away and asked for some change.

Farhana, who thought the man was harmless, looked at his face and said she had none. She began to walk forward, but after a couple of steps, the man jumped in front of her and put a knife with a curved six-inch blade to her throat. He demanded she give up her necklace with a gold chain and locket. Farhana screamed, “No!” The man ripped the chain off her neck and fled up the stairs.

Farhana went down the stairs and reported the robbery to a token clerk. About an hour later, Farhana went to a transit police station. She told Detective Samuel DeJesus that the robber was a black man in his thirties. She said he was over six feet tall, had “pinkish” lips, and wore a short-sleeved blue shirt and a blue bandana.

DeJesus suspected 32-year-old Quentin Abney because Abney resembled the description and had previously been convicted of a subway-related robbery. DeJesus put together a photographic array and Farhana selected the photo of Abney as the robber.

On June 22, 2005, Detective Ernest Dorvil brought Farhana into a lineup viewing room. Farhana again identified Abney as the robber.

Abney was arrested and charged with one count of first-degree robbery.

Prior to trial, Abney’s defense lawyer filed a motion to present expert testimony concerning “psychological factors of memory and perception that may affect the accuracy of eyewitness identifications.” The defense asked to call Dr. Solomon M. Fulero to educate the jurors “on many counterintuitive findings that bear directly on the reliability of the identification evidence.” The defense identified 15 such factors: stress; exposure time; color perception under monochromatic light; event violence; cross-racial accuracy; similarity of lineup fillers; lineup instructions; rate of memory loss; post-event information; the wording of questions posed to an eyewitness; unconscious transference to the crime scene of someone seen in another situation or context; the witness's preexisting attitudes and expectations; simultaneous and sequential lineups; the lack of correlation between confidence and accuracy; and confidence malleability.

The trial court judge denied the motion as premature, but said the defense could renew the motion at the close of the prosecution's case. While acknowledging the victim was 13, the judge said the defense motion did not “appropriately narrow the scope of the expert's proposed testimony,” and therefore threatened to turn the trial into “a full-fledged seminar . . . which could lead to hours of academic discussion and speculation.” The judge also said testimony about police techniques at the live lineup was not relevant because Farhana had previously identified Abney in the photographic lineup.

Finally, the trial judge commented that “jurors know that, as a matter of common sense, a person's memory does fade as time passes.” The judge said that many of the defense concerns could be addressed during cross-examination.

In March 2006, Abney went to trial in New York County Supreme Court. Farhana described the robbery and identified Abney as the robber. She denied that police told her ahead of time that there was a suspect in the live lineup. During cross-examination of Detective Dorvil, he admitted that he let Farhana know ahead of time that a suspect was included.

After the prosecution ended its case, the defense renewed its motion to call an eyewitness identification expert and proposed a more limited range of subjects to be covered.

Specifically, the defense asked to elicit expert testimony about the effect of event stress, exposure time, event violence and weapon focus, cross-racial identification, and lineup instructions. The defense added a new topic, double blind lineups, in which officers conducting the lineup do not know whether there is a suspect in the lineup.

The trial judge denied the renewed motion on the ground that “having had the benefit of the witness’s testimony,” there was “nothing unique about [the] case . . . present[ing] issues that are beyond the ken of the ordinary juror.” The judge concluded the relevant issues had been explored during cross-examination.

The defense contended Abney was elsewhere at the time of the crime. Abney’s girlfriend, Mary Nimmons, testified that at or around the time of the robbery, he was picking up her daughter from preschool in Brooklyn and that he then brought her to Nimmons's home in Brooklyn. Nimmons also testified that she went to the school on June 3, 2005, to get the sign-in sheet signed by Abney. During cross-examination, she conceded that she picked it up at Abney’s request after he was arrested on June 22, 2005. Two of Abney’s cousins who were at Nimmons’s home also testified he was there.

Carolyn Murphy, an assistant teacher at the preschool, testified that she remembered that Abney picked up Nimmons’s daughter on June 2, 2005 because Nimmons came to the school the following day, June 3, to obtain a copy of the sign-in sheet reflecting that he signed in to get the girl. Murphy also testified that she was one of the employees responsible for making sure the sign-in sheets were filled out properly, and that the sheet was checked for accuracy every time it was signed.

The logbook of sign-in sheets from March through June 2005 showed that the sign-in sheets were not consistent. Some days children were signed in, but not signed out. Some had signatures, but no time filled in. The sheet dated June 2, 2005 from the March-June logbook exhibit differed from the sheet dated June 2, 2005 that Nimmons said she obtained from the school. The sheet in the logbook said Abney picked up Nimmons's daughter at 3:04 p.m.; the sheet Nimmons said she obtained said the time was 3:00 p.m.

On March 20, 2006, the jury convicted Abney of first-degree robbery. He was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.

In 2008, the Appellate Division, with two Justices dissenting, affirmed the judgment of conviction and sentence.

In October 2009, however, the New York Court of Appeals reversed Abney’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the defense should have been allowed to call an expert to testify about the frailties of eyewitness identification, particularly because the case rested solely on Farhana’s identification, which was based on an interaction during a brief moment of duress.

In January 2012, Abney went to trial a second time. His defense lawyer, Kathleen Hardy from the Legal Aid Society of New York, called Jennifer Dysart, a professor at John Jay College of New York and expert on eyewitness identification. She testified that Farhana’s brief exposure to the robber, and the trauma of having a knife put to her neck and her necklace ripped away were factors that could cause someone to make a mistake.

On January 19, 2012, the jury acquitted Abney and he was released.

In 2016, Abney was convicted of burglary and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/13/2019
State:New York
County:New York
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2005
Sentence:20 to Life
Age at the date of reported crime:32
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No