Murder conviction overturned because eyewitness was legally blind
Judge Diana Kenworthy of Cook County, Illinois, speaks during a sentencing hearing at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago in July 2021. Photo by Jose M. Osorio/The Chicago Tribune via the Associated Press.
A judge in Chicago overturned a murder conviction Tuesday after defense lawyers produced evidence that an eyewitness who testified during the 2014 trial was legally blind.
Judge Diana Kenworthy of Cook County, Illinois, overturned the conviction of Darien Harris, who was 18 when he was accused in a 2011 gas station shooting that killed one man and wounded another.
An Injustice Watch investigation reported in 2019 that witness Dexter Saffold had been declared legally blind in 2002 because of his glaucoma. During Harris’ trial, Saffold said he was riding his motorized scooter home from a fast-food restaurant when he heard gunshots and saw the shooter, who bumped into Saffold as he ran away. He identified Harris in a lineup and at trial.
Harris was convicted and sentenced to 76 years in prison. On Tuesday, prosecutors agreed that Harris’ conviction should be vacated but said they planned to try him again.
Prosecutors said there was another witness, a man who said he drove Harris to the gas station before the shooting. The man later recanted, saying police had pressured him to identify Harris. The witness is no longer alive.
A third witness, a clerk at a gas station, has said he recognized the shooter, and it wasn’t Harris, according to defense lawyers. The clerk was not called as a witness at the trial.
The actual shooter, according to Harris’ lawyers, may have been a teenager who later died in another gas station shooting.
Harris is represented by Lauren Myerscough-Mueller, an attorney with the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School.
Kenworthy refused to release Harris as he awaits a new trial.