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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Illinois Man Sentenced to 76 Years in Prison Based on Testimony From a Legally Blind Person

Darien Harris

Chicago, IL — Darien Harris was 18-years old when he was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to 76 years in prison for his alleged involvement in a deadly shooting. Now 26-years old, Harris is seeking to overturn the decision after discovering that the key witness who pointed him to the crime was actually legally blind!

Harris was a senior student in high school when he was convicted of murder, attempted murder, and other charges in connection to the 2011 shooting at a gas station that killed one person and critically injured another one. Cook County Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford ruled the conviction based largely on the testimony of the supposed eye-witness, Dexter Saffold.

According to Saffold’s testimony, he was riding his scooter near the gas station when he heard gunshots. He said he was approximately 18 feet away from the scene when he saw someone firing the shots. He also said the gunman bumped into him while fleeing the scene. Eight days after the incident, Saffold pointed Harris from the lineup and identified him again in court.

However, new evidence — in the form of a 2013 discrimination lawsuit — shows that Saffold suffered from glaucoma, a disease that made him legally blind. He was also found to be receiving disability benefits about 10 years before the shooting, more proving his visual impairment. During the trial, Saffold was asked if his diabetes affected his vision, in which he initially answered yes and then quickly changed his answer.

Harris’ attorney, Jodi Garvey, claimed that Saffold’s testimony should be tossed out due to his inconsistencies. She wrote in a July court filing, “Considering the fact that Mr. Saffold is admittedly legally blind, a matter he denied during his testimony, his identification is worthless.”

Aside from that, Garvey said a surveillance video showed a man on the scooter, presumably Saffold, approaching the gas station after the shooting and after the gunman left which would contradict Saffold’s testimony that he saw the incident and he bumped into the gunman. Garvey said the surveillance video wasn’t presented at the trial.

Another eye-witness, Jodie Toney, who was working at the gas station at that time said that Harris was not the gunman. He said the lead detectives on the case, Isaac Lambert and Devinn Jones, told him beforehand to point to Harris in the lineup but he refused. He did not also spot the actual shooter on the lineup. He wasn’t contacted to testify to the case.

Moreover, Harris’ 41-year-old mother, Nakesha Harris, said his son was at home watching NBA with his father when the shooting occurred. No physical evidence was found linking Harris to the crime.

Meanwhile, Judge Ford, who has over a dozen judicial rulings that have reportedly been overturned, discreetly retired in April. He now works as a U.S. Immigration Court judge in San Francisco, California.

“We have a kid who was barely 18, wrongfully convicted,” Garvey told The Washington Post. “He’s had the ability to graduate high school with his classmates taken away from him. He probably would have graduated from college now.”

According to the State’s Attorney’s Office, Harris’ case is under review. If Saffold’s testimony would ultimately be tossed out, Harris would be resentenced. Harris is also filing an appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court.

“Now that the case is getting recognition, I think that they’re going to have no choice but to do the right thing at this point,” Nakesha Harris said. “A lot of mistakes were made doing this case.”