On November 17, 2017 a federal court jury in Chicago ruled against Nicole Harris’ federal civil rights lawsuit that claimed Chicago Police Department officers framed her for her 4-year-old son Jaquari’s death in May 2005. Harris was incarcerated for almost eight years before her murder conviction was overturned and she was released in 2013.
Jaquari was found dead in his bedroom with an elastic band from a fitted sheet around his neck.
Jaquari shared a bedroom with his 6-year-old brother Diante. They slept in a bunk bed, with Diante in the upper bed.
Diante told the police when he was first interviewed the day after his brother’s death that Jaquari wrapped the elastic band around his own neck while he was playing Spiderman in his bunk bed. He also told the police that neither his mother nor father was present when he did so.
The 23-year-old Harris gave an audio taped confession to the Chicago PD officers who questioned her, that she strangled Jaquari after becoming angry because he and Diante had misbehaved by leaving their apartment when she was across the street at the laundromat.
After confessing, Nicole Harris was arrested and charged with murdering her son.
Harris recanted her confession as coerced because she had been questioned intermittently over 27 hours.
During her trial the prosecution’s key evidence was her confession.
Her defense was Jaquari accidentally asphyxiated himself by wrapping the elastic around his neck while Harris was at the laundromat. However, the judge ruled that Diante wasn’t a competent witness and didn’t allow him to testify about what he saw.
Harris was convicted by the jury on October 2005, and sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Her conviction was affirmed by the Illinois Court of Appeals.
Harris filed a federal habeas corpus that raised a number of issues. A key issue was her claim the trial judge violated her due process right to present a complete defense by barring Diante from testifying.
The U.S. District Court judge denied Harris’ petition.
Harris was allowed to appeal on the issue the judge violated her due process right to a fair trial.
On October 18, 2012 the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals granted Harris’ habeas petition and ordered her retrial. The Court ruled the trial judge violated her due process right to present Diante’s exculpatory testimony that Jaquari accidentally strangled himself.
The State of Illinois opposed Harris’ release on bail until the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether it would review the Seventh Circuit’s ruling.
The Seventh Circuit ruled it didn’t think the State had sufficient legal grounds to prevail in an appeal. The Court ordered Harris’ release on February 25, 2013 on her own recognizance. She had been in custody for seven years and nine months from the time of her arrest.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the Seventh Circuit’s ruling. On June 17, 2013 Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez issued a written statement that Harris would not be retried.
In January 2014 Cook County Circuit Court Chief Judge Paul P. Biebel Jr. awarded Harris a certificate of innocence. That enabled her to apply for wrongful imprisonment compensation from the State of Illinois, and she was awarded $185,000.
Harris filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on June 12, 2014 against the Chicago PD and several detectives involved in her case. Her lawsuit alleged her constitutional rights were violated by her prosecution that was largely based on her false confession she gave during her 27 hours of intermittent interrogation by the detectives.
On November 17, 2017 a federal court jury decided against Harris, in ruling the Chicago PD detectives did not violate her rights and she wasn’t framed for murdering her son.
Unless Harris prevails in a possible appeal, her compensation will be the $185,000 awarded by the State of Illinois.