Although I agree that Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) was right to commute the death sentence of Robin M. Lovitt to life without parole, a Nov. 30 editorial and a letter of the same day from the jury foreman in the case indicated a belief in Mr. Lovitt's guilt.

As a criminologist with 35 years of experience in monitoring cases with claims of innocence, I note that two key pieces of evidence in the case were questionable: an eyewitness and a jailhouse informant.

Considerable research argues persuasively that an eyewitness identification by a stranger with a brief glimpse of the suspect in a stressful moment is inherently questionable. Just about all the literature on innocence claims says that eyewitness identification is the worst evidence possible. The only worse evidence might come from a jailhouse snitch.

The jury foreman wrote that no single item of evidence was conclusive but that the accumulation was overwhelming. This is what has been called "putting on a parade." The prosecution wants the jury to believe that flimsy evidence plus flimsy evidence plus more flimsy evidence adds up to a solid case. That is an invalid conclusion. Flimsy evidence remains flimsy evidence.


Takoma Park