Racial differences cloud Fresno murder case identification, expert says

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Video showed two masked men barging into his southeast Fresno convenience store for a robbery in August 2012. One of them shot Kashmir Manes. (KFSN)

A Fresno murder trial is creeping to a close this week, three months after it started. Witnesses helped build the case against Dwayne Dodson and Christopher Roberts and surveillance cameras caught the murder of Kashmir Manes.

Video showed two masked men barging into his southeast Fresno convenience store for a robbery in August 2012. One of them shot Manes.

Prosecutors say purple underwear inside baggy pants tie Roberts to the crime. And they say Dodson's clothes are the same he wore into another store an hour earlier.

But defense attorneys say police found no physical evidence -- on their clothes or Roberts' car.

"Was there a positive reading for blood?" Roberts' defense attorney Margarita Martinez asked Dr. Ruth Ballard, a DNA & blood expert, of evidence from the car.

"No, it said LMG negative, meaning they didn't find it," Ballard said.

A teenage witness identified Roberts' car as one he saw driving away from the murder, but over objections, the defense dramatically emphasized the lack of a physical connection.

"The fact that no blood was found in the trunk, that's consistent with innocence, right?" Dodson's attorney, Ralph Torres, asked Dr. Ballard, immediately after prosecutors objected to a similar question.

"Mr. Torres, caution," said Judge Denise Whitehead. "Don't do that again."

Testimony from another witness could tie Dodson to the crime, but a defense expert says eyewitness testimony, in general, isn't very good unless the witness knows the suspect.

"Eyewitness identification of strangers turns out to be very, very difficult," said Dr. Robert Shomer. "It's not at all like identification of familiars, or people we see often."

Dr. Shomer says identification is even worse when the suspect has a weapon, which distracts the brain, or when they're of a different race.

"Now this is not just the racist statement that we've all heard, you know, 'They all look alike to me', that kind of thing," he said. "That's a racist statement," but experiments show people have a hard time identifying people of other races.

Roberts and Dodson are African-Americans. The eyewitnesses tying them to the crime are not.

But between their testimony, and what you see in the video, prosecutors say there's enough to reveal the men behind the masks.

Wednesday was day 47 of the trial. Closing arguments are expected Thursday, on day 48.

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