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In the early hours of 9 September, 1984, a stranger entered Mrs M's California home through an open living-room window. Finding Mrs M asleep, he tried to rape her, but fled when other people in the house awoke. Mrs M described her assailant to the police: he was black, weighing about 170 pounds and 5'7” to 5'9” tall, with small braids and a blue baseball cap.

Officers cruising her neighbourhood spotted someone roughly matching that description standing beside his car a block away from the house. The man, Joseph Pacely, said that his car had broken down and he was looking for someone to jump-start it. But Mrs M identified him as her attacker and he was charged.

At Pacely's trial a few months later, memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus testified on his behalf. She told the jury how memory is fallible; how stress and fear may have impaired Mrs M's ability to identify her assailant, and how people can find it difficult to identify someone of a race other than their own.

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