Chicago Tribune; February 25, 2013
Nicole Harris, who has been locked up since the 2005 death of her son, walked out of an Illinois prison today after an appeals court threw out her murder conviction.
Harris emerged from Dwight Correctional Center in front of a gathering of news crews after being reunited with her other son.
“I’m just overwhelmed and I’m thankful that’s it’s going to be over and I just want to be home with my son,” Harris told the assembled media.
“I’m just ready to get on with my life and hold my son.”
The Chicago woman was 23 when a jury found her guilty of killing her 4-year-old son Jaquari in their Northwest Side apartment following her confession to authorities. But Harris has long maintained that her confession was false and the result of threats and manipulation by police.
She said today that she was able to make it through the past seven years knowing that “I’m innocent and the truth will come out.”
“It was like at some point I just knew this isn’t it, that this was not my final destination.”
In a 90-page ruling last October that vacated her conviction, the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said there were “many reasons” to question her confession.
The appeal judges also ruled that Diante, then 5, should have been allowed to testify.
Now 14, Diante was the first person to meet Harris when she was released into an outer room of the prison at about 11:30 a.m. today. Diante walked in bearing a balloon that read, “It’s your Day” and a teddy bear. Harris threw her arms around him, wept softly and kissed him.
When asked later what it was like to see her son at that time, she said, “There are no words.”
At exactly noon, a prison official told Harris she was “free to go.” She clutched hands with a close friend and walked out of the prison. She had been told to get her things together around 8:30 a.m. this morning, she told the media, and said that, at that time, “I was beyond anxious.”
Jaquari had been found dead with an elastic bedsheet cord wrapped around his neck. Diante had told authorities that he was alone with Jaquari when he saw him wrap the cord around his neck while playing.
Prosecutors, who argued that Diante also said he was asleep when Jaquari died, accused Harris of strangling Jaquari with the cord because she was angry he would not stop crying.
Harris’ release, which the state argued against, is not the end of legal battle. The state has appealed the October ruling, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In addition, Cook County prosecutors could still move to retry her. A representative from the state’s attorney’s office said no decision on a retrial has been made.
For now, Harris said, “I just want to enjoy life.”
“I’m just glad to be free. I’m just glad to be free.”