Witnesses at Randy Blythe’s trial show the problem of eyewitness testimony

Randy Blythe (photo by AFP/Getty Images)

Randy Blythe (photo by AFP/Getty Images)

The manslaughter trial of Lamb of God front man Randy Blythe opened Monday in the Czech Republic. On Monday, judges heard testimony from Blythe, while witnesses who were at the concert testified on Tuesday.

As you know, Blythe is accused of causing the death of 19 year-old Daniel Nosek at a 2010 Lamb of God concert in Prague. Blythe is charged with causing Nosek’s death by pushing Nosek off the stage, causing Nosek to strike his head on the floor. If found guilty, Blythe could face 10 years in prison and a civil penalty of $10 million Czech Koruna.

According to Richmond Va. television station WTVR, several witnesses testified Blythe was aggressive at the concert and pushed Nosek off the stage from behind.

But witnesses gave differing accounts of the incident; in one case, a witness said there were “several” incidents of aggression during the first half of the show, which Blythe said was contradicted by video from the show.

The PRP has an excellent recap of the first day of the trial; according to The PRP, prosecutors are depicting Blythe as aggressive and “antisocial,” while Blythe, band mate Chris Adler and the band’s tour manager say Blythe is quiet and intelligent and only acts aggressive as part of the band’s stage show.

The eyewitness testimony is interesting, because it demonstrates how unreliable eyewitnesses are in criminal trials. According to the WTVR report, several eyewitnesses had difficulty recalling details from the May 2010 concert.

According to The Innocence Project, the organization helped overturn 21 wrongful convictions in 2011; of those 21 convictions, 19 of them were based on eyewitness testimony that later proved to be incorrect.

Eyewitness testimony in the Blythe trial doesn’t seem like an issue on the surface — after all, everyone in the audience was presumably a Lamb of God fan and knew the man singing on stage was Randy Blythe. But the question of what they saw is complicated. Video footage from the concert that was widely circulated and allegedly showed Blythe pushing a man (presumably Nosek) off the stage; but the PRP reports the man Blythe pushes in the video was not Nosek.

Further, the venue was crowded, the audience area was darkened and various stage lights were flashing during the concert. A witness might believe he saw Blythe push Nosek off the stage, when he really saw the other person, who was captured in the video footage.

According to the American Bar Association, other factors that affect memory in eyewitness accounts are intoxication, the amount of time a person witnessed the incident and distance between the eyewitness and the incident. Memory also decays over time — in the case of Blythe’s trial, the eyewitnesses have had almost three years to, unintentionally, lose details from the incident.

Without irrefutable evidence — like video footage that shows Blythe pushing a clearly identifiable Nosek off the stage — the judges presiding over the case will have to base their decision solely on the eyewitness testimony. Since the eyewitnesses already called to testify have provided accounts that somewhat contradict each other — and since some witnesses have had trouble remembering details from the incident — the fact that the verdict might hang on those accounts is troubling.

The trial is scheduled to continue through Friday.

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