Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Delayed Justice: Man Freed After 20 Years in Prison for Crime He Didn’t Commit



James Harden, 36, was freed from prison after serving nearly 20 years in the Menard Correctional Center for the 1991 rape and murder of 14-year old middle school student, Cateresa Matthews, in Dixmoor, Illinois.

One of five men, known as the Dixmoor Five, Harden was only 15 years old, suffering with severe learning disabilities and unable to read when he signed a confession that lead to his lifetime behind bars.

Both of his parents died while he was serving his sentence.

Two other men convicted of the crime, Harden’s half-brother Jonathan Barr and friend, Robert Taylor, will also be released after “paperwork related to a decades-old juvenile conviction is worked out,” says his attorney.

Another one or two days or whatever after doing 18, 20 years, it's like a drop in the bucket," Craig Cooley of the New York-based Innocence Project said.

The other members of the Dixmoor Five, Robert Lee Veal and Shainne Sharp, were released years ago --- granted shorter sentences for testifying against Harden, Barr and Taylor. New DNA evidence that was hidden beneath mounds of paperwork was discovered by Tara Thompson of the University of Chicago Law School Exoneration Project. The evidence points to a convicted rapist now serving time for a drug offense; he has not been charged.

Lanell Gilbert, Dixmoor Police Chief, admitted that the storage facilities were “not up to par” making the evidence difficult to find, but that they were working on improvements.

"We got lucky we found the evidence," said Cooley. "We finally found it after a year and a half of searching for it when we were told repeatedly it didn't exist."

Though Harden says that his new-found freedom is “like breathing new life in my body,” he won’t be satisfied until he is able to speak with Cateresa’s mother.

"I don't want that lady thinking that we had anything to do with her daughter's death," he said.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The way the justice system handled this case is another example of why the Death Penalty should be abolished.