The Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) at Northwestern Law reports today that Cook County prosecutors have dropped all charges against Nicole Harris, who was wrongfully convicted of the May 2005 strangulation murder of her 4-year-old son, Jaquari Dancy. Harris served seven years of a 30-year sentence before a federal appeals court reversed the conviction. As reported last February on this blog (here) and (here) the court opined that Jaquari’s older brother, Dante—five at the time—should have been permitted to testify. Dante had told police that his brother accidentally strangled himself with a bed sheet while playing and that his brother’s death was an accident.
The only evidence supporting Nicole’s guilt was a confession, which occurred after 27-hours of intermittent interrogation by detectives at Chicago Police Area 5 headquarters. Harris, who was 23 at the time and a recent graduate of Southern Illinois University, said that the confession came after physical and psychological coercion.
Harris wrote to Center on Wrongful Convictions legal director Steven A. Drizen, an expert on false confessions. Jenner & Block partner, Robert R. Stauffer, worked pro bono with CWC staff lawyer Alison Flaum. They appealed Harris’s case through the state and federal systems until the Seventh Circuit Court directed U.S. District Court James B. Zagel to grant Harris’s petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus, ordering the state to retry or release her within 120 days.
Harris was released in December 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the State’s Attorney’s appeal, and today Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Magats moved to dismiss the charges.
This is the Center’s first exoneration in 2013. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Cook County has had 89 exonerations since 1989. Thirty-three of these involved an unreliable confession.