Wrongfully convicted killers go free
They were just 14 and 17 years old when they were sentenced to a maximum security prison for a crime authorities now say they did not commit.
Nearly 20 years later, DNA evidence cleared the two men. The youngest is expected to remain at Menard Psychiatric Center until Monday, but his brother was freed Friday. He and his attorney from the Exoneration Project stopped to talk to me on their way home to Chicago.
James Harden, his brother Jonathan Barr, and three others were convicted of killing Cateresa Matthews as teenagers in 1991. She was 14 when she disappeared while walking home from school in Dixmoor, Illinois. Her body was found two weeks later. She’d been sexually assaulted and shot.
Three of the boys confessed to the crime, but none of defendants’ DNA was found at the crime scene. It was the catalyst to overturn their convictions.
“I made it!” Harden says. “I made it. I survived.”
James Harden is a free man. At 36 years old, he spent the last 20 years serving an 80-year sentence for a crime authorities now say he did not commit.
“There’s a lot of red flags about James’s case,” Tara Thompson, Harden’s attorney and staff attorney at the Exoneration Project, says. “There’s a group of kids who didn’t hang out, who were accused of being friends and being together when this crime happened, and at the time of the trials, they knew that there was DNA evidence in this case that didn’t match any of the defendants, and those things just didn’t really fit together. It’s kids — talking to police and giving statements without their parents present, without a lawyer present, and in this case those confessions were coerced.”
Paperwork has kept Harden’s brother Jonathan Barr in prison, but he is expected to be released on Monday.
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