Yesterday, Nicole Harris left the Dwight Correctional Center after serving seven years of a thirty year sentence. Her conviction in the death of her son, Jaquari, was overturned by a federal appeals court last October and earlier this month the 7th Court of Appeals ordered Harris’s release.
WGN TV in Chicago reported on and shared a video of Harris’s emotional release to her family and attorneys (here).
Harris’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (at Northwestern Law) attorney called her release “a long time coming.”
While Harris is free today, she and her family will be living under a cloud of uncertainty until the Cook County State’s Attorney decides whether or not to retry her.
As in most miscarriages, multiple factors contributed to the stumbling of justice in this case. The trial judge ruled that Jaquari’s older brother could not testify. He had said his brother wrapped a cord around his neck playing a game. If correct, the death was an accident, not a crime.
Harris was convicted primarily on a confession that came after 27 hours of interrogation. Afterward she steadfastly claimed the confession was coerced and the death of her son a tragic accident.
About one-fourth of DNA-proven wrongful convictions revealed a false confession, self-incriminating statement, or a plea of guilty. These proven false confessions have been studied by experts. We now know what factors can lead to a false confession. These red flags cast doubt on the entire process and the verdict, especially in a case such as this in which no tangible evidence tied the defendant to the crime. In this case, it is now questionable that a crime even occurred.
Among the many lessons is that when convictions are gained by questionable means, everyone loses…Nicole Harris and her family including her surviving son who lost his mother this past seven years, and the citizens of Cook County. They have paid the extraordinary expenses of her incarceration and litigation, and that of many others whose verdicts were also overturned. When recommended best practices in criminal justice procedures are not followed, we simply can have no confidence in the outcome or the system that produced it.