Mistaken identification leads to mistaken conviction in D.C. purse
His name is James H. Neal... See if you agree that he is totally
innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.
Submitted by James H. Neal
Edited by Barbara Jean McAtlin
While looking through the exonerating evidence that James (Jimmy) Neal sent
in with his story submission -- evidence that shows Jimmy to be in another
city at the time of these crimes -- I believe that there is substantial proof that Jimmy may just
be innocent of the crimes for which he is imprisoned. Jimmy is presently
serving a sentence of 49 to 147 years for these crimes. This sentence most
certainly means a life sentence for him. Jimmy feels that had the death
penalty been applicable in his case, he would be dead by now -- another
innocent man murdered by "justice." Jimmy says that his cries of innocence
fall on deaf ears -- the deaf ears of the Washington, D.C. Judicial System --
America's Hometown. Without doubt, Jimmy's situation is entirely real -- it
could happen to you.
In 1986, James H. Neal, a 27-year old black man, was living in Washington,
D.C. He was working at Reagan National Airport and living with his girlfriend
in a row house on Rhode Island Avenue, NW. Life was good for Jimmy. He was
looking forward to spending Christmas with his family and friends and just
taking life in the historic city one day at a time. Jimmy's life was about to
take a terrible turn.
In 1987, Jimmy was arrested by the D.C. Metropolitan Police at his home.
After his arrest, Jimmy was wrongfully convicted in the D.C. Courts of a
string of thirteen robberies -- all purse snatchings -- as well as
unauthorized use of a vehicle. His conviction was based on the testimony of
three eyewitnesses who had picked another man out of a photographic array
before picking Jimmy. Jimmy was picked out of a police lineup after he was
forced to stand on a two-inch to four-inch high box that elevated, distorted
and altered his true height and made him look as tall as the man the three
witnesses had picked out in the earlier photographic array. Neither of the
other suspects ever stood in a lineup. The police returned the property of
the victims to them at the time of Jimmy's lineup. That the police would
return the victims' property at the lineup would seem to be quite effective
in giving the victims an idea that the "right" man was included in this
particular lineup. There was no other evidence that pointed to Jimmy as
being the perpetrator -- no fingerprints, nothing. Except for their differing
heights, there are many similarities in the looks of all of the suspects --
all are black, stocky, round-faced and bearded. During a high stress
situation, it is relatively easy to see how the victims could have been
confused and identified the wrong man (please see mug shots).
Even though the District Attorney recommended against trying Jimmy
for these crimes, an Assistant District Attorney took over the case and
decided to prosecute Jimmy anyway.
The crimes that had begun to terrorize the metro D.C. area in November of
1986, ended abruptly for about two weeks before they began anew that same
On December 27, 1994, a man named Ricardo Carlton Ebron was arrested for
car-jacking. Ebron relieved a woman of her automobile and used the
vehicle to commit fifteen robberies -- all purse snatchings. This story was
reported on WUSA Channel 9 News on December 27, 28 and 29, 1994. After
viewing Ebron's photograph, one can only come to the conclusion that in those
brief, hurried encounters and -- with their descriptions being virtually
identical -- an identification error occurred. The white car theft victim
never identified Jimmy Neal.
Further investigation into the Ebron case revealed that Ricardo Ebron had
been arrested for the theft of two money orders that had been stolen in a
purse snatching on November 28, 1986 -- the same time the thefts stopped for
a short time. Jimmy was convicted of two purse snatchings that happened on
that very same day. The information about the similarities of the crimes
or which Jimmy was convicted of, and the crimes of Ebron, was not discovered until December
1994, even though the same police detective who arrested
Jimmy is mentioned by name in Ebron's 1988 police reports. This has never
been seen by a jury.
During the course
of the November 28 robberies, police located the car Ricardo Ebron had stolen
at 8th and Jefferson Street, N.E. in the District, mere blocks from his
residence. Using an immobile potato chip truck, D.C. Metro Police set up
surveillance on the vehicle with the hope that they would catch the
perpetrator should he return to the vehicle. The man did indeed return to the
vehicle. He escaped. The stolen car was found abandoned a short time later in
Maryland. Because of a prior arrest for burglary in which the charges were
dismissed, Jimmy became a suspect in these purse snatchings and the
carjacking in February 1987, even though the crimes bore no
Ricardo Ebron recently pleaded guilty to crimes he committed in nearby
Maryland and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He denies committing the crimes to which he pleaded guilty. He
also claims he's not guilty of the crimes for which Jimmy was convicted, even
though the modus operandi is rare and identical, purse snatchings committed
from a vehicle. These types of snatch robberies are rare and are committed
when the robber asks a victim for directions or uses some other type of ruse
before snatching the victim's purse. In one police report, Ebron admits
he was addicted to crack and that he used this type of robbery to
support his [crack] habit. Also included in this police report, Ebron said
[that] he only robbed elderly females because he felt they would not
be able to identify him. A jury has never seen this evidence.
Even though Ebron has been credited with dozens of prior robbery counts,
many of which were purse snatchings,because the six-year
statute of limitations has run out on these crimes, Ebron, by law, is now
barred from prosecution for them.
Before Jimmy was thrust into the picture, another suspect, Lawrence Jones,
was identified as the perpetrator by the three witnesses who later
identified Jimmy as the perpetrator of these same crimes. Initially, two
different detectives from different police districts were investigating the
same case with no knowledge of the other investigation. A warrant was
obtained for Jimmy's arrest based on the eyewitness identification before a warrant was obtained for the arrest of Lawrence Jones. The
detective who had pinned Jones as a suspect retreated and allowed his
colleague to go ahead with the case against Jimmy. Jones was a suspect in an
unrelated purse snatching and had tried to negotiate a victim's check. The
jury never heard this evidence.
On November 19, 1986 at 1:50 p.m., the vehicle that would be used in the
Washington, D.C. crimes was being stolen from a parking lot on New Hampshire
Avenue in Silver Spring, Maryland. A records officer from the bank
Jimmy used testified at trial that Jimmy had used an ATM machine to
withdraw some money from his account on Maryland Avenue, N.E. in Washington,
D.C. at 2:06 p.m. He keyed in his PIN number wrongly and had to
reenter it to get his money. He reentered his PIN at 2:13 p.m. It
is impossible to drive from the parking lot on New Hampshire Avenue in Silver
Spring, Maryland to the ATM machine on Maryland Avenue, N.E. in Washington,
D.C. in twenty-three minutes. Unfortunately, no camera existed at this ATM
machine, as it was located at a mall, not at a bank building.
Only two ATM cards existed for this bank account. One ATM card belonged to
Jimmy and the other to his grandmother. His grandmother, who was listed on
his account, testified that she had never used Jimmy's ATM card and it was
proven that she had not used her card on the day in question. The bank clerk
testified that there were three cards issued to the account. The clerk
neglected to say that the third card had been taken by an ATM machine when
Jimmy keyed in his PIN number wrongly too many times during one
transaction. That card was later replaced by the card Jimmy was using. Only
Jimmy and his grandmother had access to this account. The bank records alone
should show that there is no possible way Jimmy could have committed
these crimes in the time frame the prosecution says he did.
The bank officer also testified that Jimmy withdrew more money from his
account from a bank on Washington Street in Alexandria, Virginia, at 11:40
a.m. on November 21, 1986, fifty minutes before a robbery took place
on Legation Street, N.W. in Washington, D.C. It is impossible to travel from
Washington Street in Alexandria, Virginia to Legation Street, N.W. in
Washington, D.C. in fifty minutes.
After the ATM withdrawal in Alexandria, Jimmy and a friend went to a jewelry
store -- also located on Washington Street in Alexandria -- to put a ring on
layaway. The dated layaway slip was never seen by the jury nor did they hear
from Jimmy's friend or the jewelry store clerk who waited on them.
On February 17, 1989, Jimmy passed a polygraph test attesting to his
innocence of these crimes.
These rare robberies continued to occur even after Jimmy's incarceration as
well as before and after Ebron's incarceration and parole.
Jimmy has now spent almost 14 years of his life in the Lorton
Penitentiary in Lorton, Virginia because eyewitness testimony, one
of the most widely used but unreliable forms of proof, can be the
most persuading to a jury. Jimmy Neal seeks justice.
James H. Neal #184-107
1901 D Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003