A Chicago mother who spent nearly eight years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of her young son's strangling death is finally — and completely — a free woman.
On Monday, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said in a written statement her office would not retry 31-year-old Nicole Harris, saying it could not meet its burden of proof in the case, the Tribune reports.
"We do not believe that it would be in the interest of justice to proceed on this matter."
Since being released from prison in February, Harris still wasn't technically free, telling CBS Chicago she was “in limbo, not knowing what is going to happen. I was scared.”
Harris' four-year-old son Jaquari Dancy was found in his room with a fitted bedsheet cord around his neck in 2005 and Harris was charged after she says she gave a forced confession following a 27-hour interrogation by police which was not videotaped.
"A lot of people may not understand it," Harris told Fox Chicago of her false confession. "I did not understand false confessions either, at one point. It was just a thing of, how do you say that you did something that you did not do? I never understood that until it happened to me."
After her arrest Harris reached out to the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions which then turned to a Chicago law firm for help. Attorneys with mega firm Jenner & Block say a key to Harris' victory was that the judge barred crucial witness testimony from her older son Diante who they allege saw the younger brother strangle himself.
"False confessions happen and Chicago has been labeled the false confession capital," says Steve Drizin, legal director at the Center on Wrongful Convictions. In December, Alvarez gave a disastrous "60 Minutes" interview in which she was questioned as to how Chicago has managed to rack up more false convictions than any other city in America.
Now a free woman, Harris told Fox she wants to get back and work on her Master's degree for community counseling and spend time with her son Diante, now a teenager.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Audrey Edmunds poses at the John C. Burke Correctional Center in Waupun, Wis., <a href="http://www.law.northwestern.edu/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/wiEdmundsSummary.html">10 years into serving an 18-year sentence for shaking a baby to death</a> while babysitting. She was freed in February 2008 after an appeals court said new research into shaken baby syndrome cast doubt on her guilt. According to Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions, experts concluded that symptoms they once thought were proof of a shaken baby can result from other causes, <a href="http://www.law.northwestern.edu/wrongfulconvictions/exonerations/wiEdmundsSummary.html" target="_blank">including accidents, illness, infection, old injuries and congenital defects.</a>
Kirk Bloodsworth spent eight years in a Baltimore County, Md., prison, two of those on death row. He was convicted of raping and murdering a 9-year-old girl. In 1993, DNA testing both excluded Bloodsworth as the child’s killer and helped convict the real killer. It was the first capital conviction case in the U.S. to be overturned through DNA testing. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kirk-noble-bloodsworth/overturned_b_59325.html">Read Bloodsworth's firsthand account here</a>.
Michael Blair was sent to death row in Texas for the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/michael-blair-texas-rape-compensation_n_2123212.html">murder of 7-year-old Ashley Estell </a>in 1994. More than a decade later, genetic testing showed he was innocent. But while behind bars, Blair confessed to raping two other children, a crime for which he's serving multiple life sentences. In 2012, Blair asked the state for nearly $1 million as compensation for being wrongfully convicted of Ashley's murder.
Damon Thibodeaux was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/28/damon-thibodeaux-death-row_n_1924776.html">absolved of the rape and murder</a> of his 14-year-old step cousin. A seven-year investigation produced DNA evidence contradicting his confession to the crime. Investigators say Thibodeaux confessed in 1997 while under duress from detectives. The 37-year-old had spent 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in a Louisiana prison awaiting his execution.
John Edward Smith, a former gang member, spent 19 years in prison for murder following a gang-related drive-by shooting in Los Angeles. He was released in September 2012 after the only <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/john-edward-smith-exonerated_n_1910026.html">witness to the incident admitted</a> that the police had pressured him to blame Smith for the murder.
Lynn DeJac Peters <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/13/lynn-dejac-peters_n_2122595.html">spent more than 13 years</a> in the maximum-security Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York. She was wrongfully convicted of strangling her 13-year-old daughter on Valentine's Day in 1993. In 2007, DNA testing placed Peters' boyfriend, Dennis Donohue, at the scene of the crime, but prosecutors could not bring charges against him: He'd received immunity when testifying before the grand jury that originally charged Peters. Donohue was later convicted in the September 1993 strangulation death of another woman and is serving 25 years to life in prison.
William Dillon, wrongly incarcerated in a Florida prison for 27 years, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/18/william-dillon-wrongly-convicted-national-anthem-tampa-bay-rays_n_1683772.html">sang the National Anthem as a free man</a> at a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game in July 2012. Dillon had been charged -- just days before a scheduled Detroit Tigers tryout -- with <a href="http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/William_Dillon.php" target="_blank">beating James Dvorak to death </a>in a wooded area near Canova Beach, Fla. He was <a href="http://www.jaxdailyrecord.com/showstory.php?Story_id=530164">exonerated in 2008</a>.
On March 29, 2012, Michael Morton of Austin, Texas, spoke to the public for the first time since he was freed from prison after spending nearly 25 years behind bars for murdering his wife. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/03/texas-man-imprisoned-for-_0_n_992681.html">New DNA tests done on a bandana</a> found near Morton's home discovered blood from his wife and a California felon, suggesting the the latter man, not Morton, committed the crime.
In January 2013, former Akron, Ohio, police captain Douglas Prade was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/26/doug-prade-ohio-prisioner-dna-margo-prade_n_1831151.html">exonerated of the murder of his ex-wife</a>. He had spent 15 years in the Madison Correctional Institution outside Columbus, largely because of a bite mark found on his ex-wife's blood-soaked body. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/30/doug-prade-released-ex-wife-murder_n_2580876.html" target="_blank">DNA testing proved he was innocent. </a>