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The Dark Dangers of Tunnel Vision

Justice, Psychology, crime, evidence

The best magazine piece I’ve read this year is by Pamela Colloff, in Texas Monthly, about the murder conviction of Michael Morton and the 25 years he spent in a Texas prison as prosecutors insisted he’d killed his wife, despite the mounting proof that he hadn’t. You really have to read this story for yourself—it’s movie material; it’s that riveting. I want to pull on one thread of Colloff’s narrative, because I’ve seen it in the weave of many other wrongful conviction cases. I’m talking about tunnel vision: the tendency of investigators to seize on an early piece of evidence that appears to implicate the defendant, and to hold on to their belief in his guilt even as other evidence points to his innocence. It’s a problem that by definition emerges in hindsight. What’s scary is how tenaciously police and prosecutors cling to their initial assumptions—and how much this reflects basic human tendencies.

On an August afternoon in 1986, Christine Morton was found lying on her bed, bludgeoned to death. A neighbor had seen her 3-year-old son Eric walking around the family’s front yard by himself; she searched the house and called the police.

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