An Illinois judge today tossed out the convictions of Innocence Project client Jonathan Barr and two other men after DNA tests proved their innocence of a 1991 rape and murder and implicated another man in the crime.
All three are still incarcerated but could be freed as early as tomorrow. The two other men wrongfully convicted in this case are expected to be cleared soon as well. Pictured above are the three men cleared today, from left to right, Robert Taylor, Jonathan Barr and James Harden.
Robert Taylor, James Harden and Jonathan Barr, all of whom were teenagers when arrested, are represented by the University of Chicago’s Exoneration Project, the Youth Project of the Center on Wrongful Convictions with private attorney Jennifer Blagg and the Innocence Project. In court today, the State’s Attorney’s Office noted that it would be filing papers soon to vacate the convictions of Robert Lee Veal and Shainne Sharp who were also wrongfully convicted of the crime.
On November 19, 1991, a 14-year-old student at Rosa Parks Middle School in Dixmoor, IL, went missing. Her body was discovered 19 days later on a footpath in a residential neighborhood near Interstate 57 in Dixmoor. She had been raped and shot in the mouth. Nearly a year after the murder, the Illinois State Police interrogated Veal, a 15-year-old student from the same school. After 5 hours in police custody, Veal signed a written statement implicating himself, Taylor (15), Barr (15), Harden (17) and Sharp (17). After 4 hours in custody, Taylor also signed a written confession. Two days later, after 21 hours in custody, Sharp did the same.
In June 1994, before any of the teenagers were tried, the Illinois State Police crime lab identified a lone male DNA profile from sperm recovered from the victim’s body. Even though all 5 defendants were excluded as the source of the semen, the prosecution pushed forward rather than seeking the source of the semen recovered from this young victim.
Over the next 2 years, Taylor, Harden and Barr were convicted, and each was sentenced to at least 80 years in prison. All subsequent appeals were denied, including a post-conviction request for DNA testing.
In August 2009, Harden, through the UChicago Exoneration Project, again sought DNA testing, a request later joined by Taylor through the Center on Wrongful Convictions and Barr through the Innocence Project. For more than a year, the Dixmoor Police Department claimed that it was unable to locate the DNA and was threatened with contempt of court for failing to respond to a subpoena. Eventually Judge Michele Simmons ordered police to allow counsel to view the evidence storage areas and log books for themselves. The department informed the lawyers that they had finally located the evidence, and DNA testing uncovered a full male profile that was entered into the national DNA database of criminal offenders, matching serial violent offender Willie Randolph.