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What Jennifer Saw (#1508)

This episode examines the reliability of eyewitness identification in criminal cases. In 1984, Jennifer Thompson, a 22-year-old college student in Burlington, North Carolina endured a brutal sexual assault. Little did she know that the conviction of her alleged assailant would take her and the accused, a young man named Ronald Cotton, on a torturous journey through the American justice system. Although the physical evidence was scanty, Cotton was eventually convicted of two rapes and ordered to serve two life sentences, primarily due to Thompson's eyewitness identification. He never wavered from his declaration of innocence, and even met a fellow prisoner whom he said committed the rapes. After 10 years in prison, Cotton's case came to the attention of law professor Rich Rosen, who applied the newer techniques of DNA testing on semen samples collected at the crime scene, now a standard forensic procedure in rape investigations. Through testing, Cotton was cleared of any wrongdoing, and the real rapist was convicted. Frontline interviews the participants in this compelling story about the validity of visual identification. [58 minutes] Closed Captioning

This episode has not aired in the past few months on Iowa Public Television.

PBS Video

Information For Teachers

Grade Levels
Curricular Areas
Social Studies
Series Length
359 episodes
Average Episode Length
68 minutes
Record Rights
Record and retain for 1 year from each broadcast. No duplication allowed.
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Series Description: As PBS' premier public affairs series, FRONTLINE's stature is reaffirmed each week through incisive documentaries covering the scope and complexity of the human, social and political experience.

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