Mom Wrongfully Convicted of Killing Son Released - NBC Chicago

Mom Wrongfully Convicted of Killing Son Released

Circuit Court of Appeals rules woman was wrongfully convicted



    Nicole Harris has spent seven years behind bars for the death of her baby boy. It's a death she said was a horrible accident. An appeals court recently agreed. Natalie Martinez reports. (Published Friday, Feb. 22, 2013)

    A Chicago woman was released from prison Monday after an appeals court ruled she was wrongfully convicted of killing her 4-year-old son in 2005.

    Nicole Harris, 24, was arrested and charged after her son, Jaquari, was found dead in his bedroom with the elastic part of his bed sheet wrapped around his neck.

    Harris maintained that the death was accidental, but was found guilty at her trial and sentenced to 30 years in prison, seven of which she served.

    She reached out to Northwestern University Law School's Center on Wrongful Convictions, who took up the case believing law enforcement officers forced the confession in their zeal to make an arrest in the case.

    The attorneys fought the conviction based on the fact that Harris' interrogation was not videotaped, only the confession, and that the testimony of the victim's 6-year-old brother, Diante, was excluded from the trial. Diante had testified that he saw his brother wrap the cord around his neck while playing Spiderman.

    The 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reviewed the case -- including the Diante's statements -- and reversed the conviction, ordering Harris released from prison by noon Monday.

    Harris's adopted sister, Alicia Shines, has not seen or spoken with her in three years, but was anxiously waiting for her on Monday.

    "It's been a long journey," Shines said. "I was so excited I could not sleep this morning."

    Shines says Harris has been active in raising her surviving son, even though she's been behind bars. The boy has been living with his father and is getting ready to graduate from the eighth grade.

    "We never thought she'd be able to see him graduate," Shines said.

    Shines says Harris was always a gentle, kind-hearted soul, and has not been hardened by the experience. She lost her father three years ago while in prison.

    The Cook County state's attorney's office has the option of retrying the case, but officials say a decision has not yet been made.