Man sues after spending 12 years in prison for murder based on testimony from a blind eyewitness

Darien Harris spent 12 years in prison for a Chicago murder based in part on testimony from a legally blind eyewitness. He is suing the city and the police department

Independent Reporters
Tuesday 28 May 2024 16:50 BST
Darien Harris was sentenced to 76 years in prison in 2014 over a fatal shooting at a Chicago South Side gas station in 2011. The legally blind eyewitness picked Harris out of a police lineup and identified him in court.
Darien Harris was sentenced to 76 years in prison in 2014 over a fatal shooting at a Chicago South Side gas station in 2011. The legally blind eyewitness picked Harris out of a police lineup and identified him in court. (Chicago Sun-Times 2023)

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A man convicted of murder based in part on testimony from a legally blind eyewitness is suing the city and the police department.

A judge convicted Darien Harris in 2014 for the fatal shooting at a Chicago South Side gas station in 2011. He was 12 years into a 76-year prison sentence when he was freed in December after The Exoneration Project showed that the eyewitness had advanced glaucoma and lied about his eyesight issues. Harris was 30 years old when he went free.

Harris filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in April alleging police fabricated evidence and coerced witnesses into making false statements, The Chicago Tribune reported Monday.

He told the newspaper he is still struggling to put his life back together.

“I don’t have any financial help. I’m still (treated like) a felon, so I can’t get a good job. It’s hard for me to get into school,” he said. “I’ve been so lost. … I feel like they took a piece of me that is hard for me to get back.”

Harris was an 18-year-old high school senior when he was arrested for the June 7, 2011 shooting that resulted in the death of 23-year-old Rondell Moore.

Darien Harris, pictured upon his release from prison in December, was convicted based in part on the testimony of a legally blind eyewitness who picked him out of a line-up and identified him in court. He is
Darien Harris, pictured upon his release from prison in December, was convicted based in part on the testimony of a legally blind eyewitness who picked him out of a line-up and identified him in court. He is (Chicago Sun-Times 2023)

Moore had pulled into a gas station because of car troubles. He was with his older brother and a friend. A local mechanic was assisting as they put up the hood to inspect the problem when the shooting occurred.

Moore was shot three times and died in a nearby parking lot. The mechanic suffered bullet wounds to his back and an arm, but survived.

Surveillance footage from the station did not show the shooting, but prosecutors say it did capture an individual walking away from a black Lexus and around the gas station toward the area where it happened, then running away moments later. His face was not visible on the video.

Following a trial in 2014, Harris was convicted of first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery with a firearm.

The judge had based his ruling primarily on the testimony of Dexter Saffold, the eyewitness who picked Harris out of a police lineup and identified him in court, The Chicago Tribune reported.

Saffold testified he was riding his motorized scooter near the gas station when he heard gunshots and saw a person aiming a handgun. He also added that the shooter bumped into him.

During the trial, the judge was unaware that Saffold was legally blind because of glaucoma, and his eyesight only came up briefly during his time on the stand, according to court records obtained by The Tribune.

The attorney for Harris had asked Saffold if his diabetes affected his vision. He replied yes, then paused and denied that he had vision problems. However, his doctor had declared him legally blind nine years before the shooting, according to court records.

A gas station attendant also testified that Harris wasn’t the shooter.

In December, his attorney Lauren Myerscough-Mueller argued that he was wrongfully convicted based on Saffold’s mistaken eyewitness testimony as well as “egregious misconduct” by the police who “fabricated evidence, including false witness statements and identifications through such tactics as coercion, threats, fact-feeding, and promises of leniency.”

The judge vacated Harris’ convictions and the charges were dropped.

A message left on the city’s Law Department main line seeking comment Monday wasn’t immediately returned, The Associated Press reported. The department provides attorneys for the city, its departments and its employees.

The Exoneration Project has helped clear more than 200 people since 2009, including a dozen in Chicago’s Cook County in 2023 alone.

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