Supporters and family of a man serving a 76-year sentence for murder based on testimony from an eyewitness the judge did not know was legally blind called on State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office to overturn his conviction at a press conference Monday.
Darien Harris, now 26, was convicted of a 2011 murder and attempted murder at a South Side gas station that left Rondell Moore dead and Quincy Woulard seriously injured. Harris was 18 at the time of the crime.
At the bench trial in 2014, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Ford said he found Harris guilty of the crime based in large part on the eyewitness testimony of Dexter Saffold, who had stumbled upon the scene as he made his way home from a fast food restaurant. Saffold had been deemed legally blind by doctors and the U.S. Government years before he took the stand in that case. Information regarding his visual impairment, however, did not come out at trial.
Last July, Harris’s attorney Jodi Garvey filed an application with Cook County State’s Attorney’s office conviction integrity unit asking that the case be reviewed based on the previously unrevealed information about the eyewitness’s glaucoma and legal blindness and his contradictory testimony on the stand. During a confusing exchange, Saffold had been asked whether he had vision problems, to which he replied, “Yes, I do,” then went on to deny having any problems seeing.
Saffold, who stands by his identification of Harris, said in an interview with Injustice Watch that he told prosecutors about his visual impairment before taking the stand to testify. Harris’s attorney at trial, Donna Rotunno, said in an interview that if the prosecutors, Assistant State’s Attorney Denise Loiterstein and Jane Sack, were aware of any visual impairment they did not disclose that information.
Neither prosecutor returned a telephone call.
Harris contends he is innocent of the crimes.
A spokeswoman from the state’s attorney’s office has confirmed the case was under review.
Garvey, Harris’s attorney, said at the press conference that they are asking the state’s attorney’s office to vacate Harris’s conviction. She noted that the application for review is the first time they were able to bring forward the new information about the eyewitness’s visual impairments.
Activist Ja’Mal Green called on Kim Foxx, who “ran on a promise of reform, to right this wrong,” at the press conference. Green said he and Harris’s supporters were asking that justice be brought to the victims of the shooting, and called on legislators to review de facto life sentences doled out to youthful offenders.
Harris’s mother, Nakesha Harris, said at the press conference that her son was weeks away from his high school graduation when he was arrested and charged in the slaying. Her son has not met some of his siblings because of his incarceration, she said.
“We’re asking, we’re begging, Ms. Foxx please review this case,” Nakesha Harris said.