Darien Harris freed from prison after trial’s key witness was found to be blind

Darien Harris in blue hat and jacket in front of jail fence
Image caption,Darien Harris left Cook County Jail after 12 years in prison

A Chicago man has been cleared of murder charges after it was revealed that his conviction relied on testimony from a witness who was legally blind.

Darien Harris, who had been in prison for 12 years, was released from jail on Tuesday after a judge vacated his conviction.

Mr Harris called his release the happiest moment of his life.

“These 12 and ½ years of being gone, it wasn’t easy at all,” he told reporters. “But I fought, and now I’m here.”

Mr Harris was 18 when he was arrested for the 2011 murder of Rondell Moore at a gas station. He was convicted in 2014, just before his high school graduation, and was sentenced to 76 years in prison.

Now 30, Mr Harris walked free just shortly after 18:00 local time on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t even feel real right now, but I made it,” he told reporters outside the Cook County Jail.

At the time of Mr Moore’s murder, the only video evidence in the case showed a man – whose identity was difficult to determine – get out of a car, run across the screen and then fire shots off camera.

Mr Harris, who had no prior criminal record, was later picked out of a line-up by Dexter Saffold, the main witness of the shooting, and then charged and convicted.

His lawyers have since sought to reopen the case after Mr Harris discovered that Mr Saffold was legally blind – a fact that was not mentioned during the trial.

“Justice is supposed to be blind. The eyewitness is not supposed to be blind,” Mr Harris’ lawyer Lauren Myerscough-Mueller said. “That is not how the justice system is supposed to work.”

Mr Harris made the discovery in 2019 with the help of another inmate and some research.

In an interview with CBS in 2019, Mr Saffold confirmed that he was indeed legally blind, saying that he has glaucoma.

“They didn’t do anything wrong because they didn’t know,” Mr Saffold said of the prosecutors in the case. “I didn’t have to tell nobody about my medical history.”

Four years later, in July, Mr Harris was exonerated by a Cook County judge. He was kept in custody while prosecutors planned to retry him, but they have since abandoned their case.

His mother, Nakesha Harris, said her son’s release is “the best Christmas gift ever”.

“I feel like I’m dreaming. It doesn’t feel real,” she told reporters just before he was released. “I guess once I hold him in my arms, it’ll be real.”

Mr Harris’ lawyer said her client now plans to http://mesintik.com/ go to law school so he can help other people who are wrongfully convicted clear their names.

“He has had to grow up largely in prison, but he has remained so positive,” Ms Myerscough-Mueller said.

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