Karen Daniel, director of Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions (CWC), discusses the Nicole Harris case on a recent Undisclosed podcast. Working with the CWC, the firm represented Ms. Harris after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her 4-year-old son in 2005. The long-running case spanned more than seven years and involved litigating at every level of the state and federal judicial systems. Ultimately, Ms. Harris was freed from prison and exonerated of the crime. She received a certificate of innocence from the court and was reunited with her surviving son. In 2014, the firm and the CWC received the Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s 2014 Pro Bono and Public Service Award for their work on the case. In the podcast, Ms. Daniel examines Ms. Harris’ false confession, given after she was subjected to police interrogation for more than 25 hours and held by herself in a cell. “To this day, Nicole can’t explain why she confessed. What we’ve learned is that everybody has a breaking point,” Ms. Daniel says. To listen to the podcast, click here. The discussion of Ms. Harris’ case starts at minute18:25.
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On June 29, 2016, Cook County Circuit Court Judge James Obbish granted post-conviction relief to firm client Arturo Reyes, who has been in prison since 2000, convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, aggravated kidnapping and home invasion. His conviction was largely based on a statement he signed after two plus days of questioning by four Chicago police detectives. Prior to his trial, Mr. Reyes unsuccessfully moved to suppress his statement on the ground that it was coerced by an abusive detective, in violation of his due process rights. Notably, no physical evidence connected Mr. Reyes to the crimes for which he was convicted – DNA analysis of evidence from the crime scene connect other people to the murders and do not match Mr. Reyes. He has maintained his innocence.
The firm began representing Mr. Reyes in 2006, shortly after the Illinois Appellate Court reversed and remanded the dismissal of his initial post-conviction petition. The firm helped Mr. Reyes amend his petition, which ultimately advanced to a third stage evidentiary hearing on the basis of his claim of newly discovered evidence that the detective who interrogated him had engaged in a pattern and practice of abuse and coercion that was not known to Mr. Reyes or the trial court when Mr. Reyes initially moved to suppress his confession.
At the third stage evidentiary proceedings, Partners Andrew W. Vail and David P. Saunders and Associate Michael T. Werner, with attorneys from Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Conviction led by Karen Daniel, who represent Mr. Reyes’ co-petitioner, Gabriel Solache, presented Mr. Reyes, Mr. Solache and several witnesses who testified to the pattern and practice, among other evidence. The lawyers also cross-examined the State’s witnesses and called the interrogating former detective to the stand. He invoked his Fifth Amendment right to not testify in response to all questions.
Based on the evidence, Judge Obbish determined that Mr. Reyes and Mr. Solache made a substantial showing that they had been denied their constitutional right to due process. He ruled that they are entitled to a new motion to suppress hearing and further found that if the newly discovered evidence had been presented at the suppression hearing, “the outcome of petitioners’ previous motion to suppress likely would have been different.”
The firm team is led by Mr. Vail and includes Mr. Saunders and Mr. Werner, as well as Associate Hillary E. August; Staff Attorney Veronica Maldonado; Paralegal W. Michael Hughes; and Project Assistant Nicholas M. Perrone. Partner David Jiménez-Ekman also contributed to Mr. Reyes’ representation. An article about Mr. Reyes’ case and the winning of a new hearing was published by the Sun-Times.