A Chicago man, Darien Harris, who was convicted of murder and serving a 76-year sentence, has had his conviction overturned after it emerged that a key witness who testified in the case was legally blind. Harris, who was charged at the age of 18 for the 2011 South Side gas station shooting that killed one and injured another, will now face a retrial.
Since the case commenced, Harris, now 30, argued he was innocent. He claimed he was home watching LeBron James in the NBA finals game with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks during the 2011 shooting for which he was convicted.
A key eyewitness, Dexter Saffold, who was a passerby at the time of the shooting, identified Harris. It’s now been revealed that Saffold was legally blind due to glaucoma but didn’t disclose this during the trial, as reported by Daily Mail.
Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, Harris’ attorney, argued in court that he was wrongly convicted due to mistaken eyewitness testimonies and the absence of physical evidence. Cook County Judge Diana Kenworthy vacated Harris’ conviction and sentence on Tuesday, paving the way for a retrial on charges of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and aggravated battery with a firearm.
The judge, emphasizing the gravity of the charges, rejected releasing Harris before his retrial. Harris, clad in jail attire and shackled, remained silent in the short court session. After waving to his family in the gallery, including his wife, mother, and uncle, he was escorted back to jail.
His mom Nakesha Harris said she was disappointed, expressing a desire for her son to be released without undergoing a retrial. “They’re wasting taxpayers’ hard-earned money,” she said.
“We’re retrying a case with no physical (or) DNA evidence. All the witnesses recanted (and) changed stories, and the judge based his verdict off the testimony of a blind man.”
The defendant’s wife, Jessica Harris, told reporters: “I thought I would have him home for the holidays, so it is in a way disappointing to see that they’re retrying him.”
“But I’m going to keep a positive attitude that he’ll be home soon.”
On June 7, 2011, Rondell Moore, 23, sought help at a Woodlawn BP gas station due to car troubles. A local mechanic arrived on a bike to assist, but Moore was tragically shot three times and died while trying to escape. The 51-year-old mechanic survived with bullet wounds to his back and arm.
Despite the absence of surveillance footage capturing the shooting, prosecutors revealed that a video did depict an individual walking away from a black Lexus, circling the gas station building, and subsequently running away from the area where the shooting took place. The video revealed a man with a physique and hairstyle resembling Harris, but his face wasn’t visible.
Shortly after the shooting, Harris was arrested based on witness Saffold’s account, who claimed to have seen the incident on his way home from a fast-food restaurant. Saffold identified Harris in a police lineup and reiterated this in court, forming the basis of Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford’s ruling.
Harris’s attorney, Myerscough-Mueller, alleged police misconduct influenced these identifications. Prosecutors, however, maintain they have credible evidence from other eyewitnesses and plan to pursue another trial.