U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Eyewitnesses, Physical Evidence, and Forensic Science: A Case Study of State of North Carolina v. James Alan Gell

NCJ Number
Victims & Offenders Volume: 3 Issue: 2 & 3 Dated: April 2008 Pages: 142-149
Marilyn T. Miller
Date Published
April 2008
8 pages
This article presents a case study that examined the importance of eyewitnesses, physicial evidence, and forensic science in criminal trials.
The use of eyewitnesses in criminal investigations and courtroom testimony has been well established in the United States. Their usefulness for the gathering of information is often the first step in any criminal investigation when looking for the who, what, when, where, and even the how and why of a crime. Their reliability, however, is often called into question. In August of 1995 Allan Gell, 20, was charged in the Superior Court of Bertie County, NC, with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, armed robbery, and conspiracy to commit murder of Aulander resident Allen Ray Jenkins in April of that year. The charges against Gell were solely based on the eyewitness account of two teenage females present during the shooting. Gell was found guilty and sentenced to death row. Upon appeal, Gell was awarded a new trial. With a new trial ordered Gell's case was re-examined, especially the use of the physical evidence to support or contradict the original eyewitnesses in the case. Physical evidence found at any crime scene can be used to corroborate the statements of witnesses, to assist investigators in determining the credibility of eyewitnesses, and to assist in the reconstruction of the events leading to the crimeincluding the way in which the crime itself was committed. For this case study the physical evidence, specifically the scientific examination of bloodstain patterns and shooting trajectory analysis for crime scene reconstruction, convinced a jury in 2005 that Gell did not shoot Jenkins and that both of the eyewitnesses were lying. Science and the reliable use of physical evidence provided the information for the jury, and Gell became the 121st person exonerated from death row. (Published Abstract)