Right Column Redux: All Things Must End
Things No One Will Ever Do Again: Set Type (6)

Manhunt 2/ In the Theater: Eyewitness


I was put in mind of this by Apple TV’s Manhunt: The Search for John Wilkes Booth, about the search for Lincoln’s assassin.

According to Wikipedia:

While it is traditionally held that Booth shouted the Virginia state motto, Sic semper tyrannis! ("Thus always to tyrants") either from the box or the stage, witness accounts conflict.

There is similar uncertainty about what Booth shouted next, in English: either "The South is avenged!” “Revenge for the South!”, or “The South shall be free!” Two witnesses remembered Booth's words as: “I have done it!”

What? How could there be any doubt? There were 1,000 witnesses in the audience that night. Well, this is why all police and lawyers say that eyewitness testimony is bunk: the least reliable form of evidence.

There’s a room full of grade schoolers to whom I taught this lesson four decades ago. I read about an experiment conducted at the FBI training academy, and performed it on the class.

I was talking to the students, and had arranged for a student to run into the classroom, shout “not enough hot water,” slam his fist on the table and leave. I asked the students to write down what he said, what he did, and how he was dressed. There were 30 different, widely varying answers.


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