In 1983, three youths robbed a social worker and her mentally challenged client as they were entering a subway station in Boston. They struck the client in the head, so she got into her car to chase them. She cut off their car on the street, so they shot her and she eventually died from the wound. Police found two high school students near the scene who reported seeing three black males fleeing. They caught one black male, Louis Santos, who the students identified as one of the men from the crime scene.
The client that had been assaulted also positively identified Santos at the station, though he was not in a lineup and was in handcuffs at the time of the identification. Santos’s alibi was that he was buying and selling marijuana at the time of the crime, which is why he ran when the police approached. He had witnesses, but none were credible enough to testify. When asked to identify the assailant in court, the surviving victim picked out Santos’s brother, a white police officer, and a white attorney before identifying Santos. However, Santos was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
In 1988, the Supreme Court of Massachusetts overturned the conviction on the basis of procedural error in Santos’s identification, and because the victim was not given a competency hearing before testifying. Prosecutors retried the case but were not allowed to include the police station identification or an in-court identification from the victim. Santos was acquitted in 1990, and another man later admitted to committing the crime.