Years ago, if someone confessed to a crime, the belief was that the police needed nothing else. After all, who would ever confess to a murder they didn’t commit right? Yet repeatedly DNA evidence is proving that young men in particular falsely confess to crimes for a number of reasons. Pressure from the police and beatings from the police are just two of the reasons that are the most common.
James Harden was just freed from an Illinois prison after serving 20 years for the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl. Two of James’ young co-defendants confessed to the crime and testified against the other defendants. Both had afterwards stated that they were beaten and coerced to do so and recanted their testimony; but no one believed them. Their statements were all it took to convict them. Now the University of Chicago Law School’s Exoneration Project, after working for years to try and locate the physical evidence, has proven that none of the boys(including those who confessed) were actually involved in the crime. Some of the boys have already completed their sentences which were shorter than Mr. Harden’s because they testified. Harden has spent 20 years in prison during which time both his mother and his father have passed away. His co-defendant Jonathan Barr will have to wit another day or two to be released due to a paperwork snafu. Barr was 14 when he was convicted!
Prosecutors reopened the Matthews case this year after attorney Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Law School Exoneration Project found evidence in the case pointed toward a convicted rapist now serving a drug sentence in Illinois. The man has not been charged in the case, but authorities said he remains under investigation.
“We got lucky we found the evidence,” Craig Cooley of NY’s Innocence Project said. “We finally found it after a year and a half of searching for it when we were told repeatedly it didn’t exist.” The Innocence Project did the DNA testing on thee case.
The case is among dozens of wrongful convictions in Illinois made public in recent years. Allegations that Chicago police tortured and forced confessions in some of those cases led to a 2000 moratorium on the death penalty, which Gov. Pat Quinn abolished earlier this year. When will this evidence lead to a national moratorium of the death penalty?
Not enough can be said about the need for perseverance in these types of cases. Kudos to the University of Chicago and the Innocence Project for restoring some of Mr. Harden’s life back to him. When asked what would one of the first things he would do with his new-found freedom he replied that it would be to personally declare his innocence to the victim’s mother:
“I don’t want that lady thinking that we had anything to do with her daughter’s death,” he said.