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Charges Dropped for Center on Wrongful Convictions Client

Cook County prosecutors will not retry Nicole Harris for the murder of her son

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June 19, 2013 | by Amy Weiss

EVANSTON, Ill. --- “All good. Charges dismissed.” That June 17 text from the lawyer of Nicole Harris told the 31-year-old mother that she truly was free following her release from the Dwight Correction Center in February, according to a June 18 article in the Chicago Tribune.

Harris, a client of Northwestern University School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC) and Jenner & Block LLP, was convicted of strangling her four-year-old son and spent eight years in prison.

She was awaiting word on whether the Cook County prosecutors would retry her case when she got word that all charges were dropped.

After Harris was convicted of strangling her four-year-old son, Jaquari Dancy, to death, she wrote to Steven A. Drizin, legal director at the CWC and a leading expert on false confessions.

CWC and Jenner & Block lawyers then appealed the case.

“We were all convinced of her innocence from the very beginning,” said Drizin in the Tribune article.

Harris, who spent eight years in prison, has maintained her innocence, arguing that she gave a false confession to the murder of her son after more than 26 hours of police interrogation and being told that she had failed a polygraph test.  

“You just don’t know until you are in that situation,” Harris said to the Tribune. “You just want the interrogation to stop.”

Harris has maintained that Jaquari’s death was an accident. The conviction occurred after the Cook County judge who presided at Harris’ jury trial excluded the testimony of the victim’s older brother, Diante Dancy.

According to the Tribune, “At the time his father discovered him dead, Jaquari was alone in the room with the 5-year-old brother. The day after his brother's death, the 5-year-old told authorities he saw Jaquari wrap the cord around his neck while playing. The judge barred him from testifying, citing in part the young boy's belief in Santa Claus and Spider-Man.”

The appeals court that overturned Harris’ conviction found that excluding the brother’s testimony was “not only unconstitutional but that it robbed Harris of ‘the most valuable piece of evidence in her defense.’”

Six weeks after Harris’ confession in July 2005, a state law went into effect requiring that entire interrogations in homicide cases be electronically recorded, the Tribune reported.

Harris, who according to the Tribune worked with hospice patients while in prison, hopes “to get a master's degree in counseling and work with people who are mentally ill.”

"I'm glad it's over," Harris told the paper. "Now I can go on with my life."

The full article in the Chicago Tribune can be accessed here (subscription may be required.)