On Saturday, June 27, 1998, five-year-old Devan Duniver, who lived with her mother in an apartment building in New Philadelphia, Ohio, went missing. About 2 p.m., 12-year-old Anthony Harris, who lived in the same building, was approached by Devan’s mother, Lori, who said she couldn’t find the girl and offered him $5 to help find her.
Shortly after 8 p.m., Lori Duniver called police when she was unable to locate the girl. The following afternoon, searchers found the girl’s body in a wooded area less than 150 feet from the apartment building. She had been stabbed multiple times in the throat.
After two weeks, with public pressure mounting to solve the crime, police asked Harris’s mother, Cynthia, to come to the station with her son.
Anthony was placed in an interrogation room with Thomas Vaughn, the police chief of nearby Millersburg, who had received interrogation training. Cynthia Harris was allowed to watch through a window, but could not hear what was being said.
A tape recording of the interrogation revealed that Anthony denied repeatedly harming the girl, but ultimately, he caved in. And when asked if he stabbed Devan in the throat, he said, “Yes.” When asked how many times, he said, “Probably twice.”
When Vaughn asked him to write it down, Anthony asked to see his mother. When he did, she asked him if he killed the girl. “No,” he said. When asked why he said he did, he said “I was just scared.”
The Tuscarawas County District Attorney, Amanda Bornhorst, listened to the tape and ordered New Philadelphia police officer Jeffrey Urban, who was heading the murder investigation, to arrest Anthony.
Anthony went on trial as a juvenile in January 1999 and the case was heard by Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Linda Cate. The prosecution’s chief evidence was the confession, which Judge Cate had refused to suppress.
In Anthony’s defense, Richard Ofshe, a leading expert in false confessions testified he believed the confession was false and coerced. A forensic expert testified that he believed the body had been moved. Teachers vouched for Anthony’s good behavior. No physical evidence linked him to the crime.
On March 10, 1999, Judge Cate found Anthony guilty. A Week later she imposed the maximum sentence for a juvenile—incarceration until he turned 21.
On June 7, 2000, the Fifth District Ohio Appellate Court set aside the conviction, ruling that police had violated the boy’s 5th Amendment rights—he had been custody, the Miranda warning had been improper and the confession had been coerced. The court found that the confession not only was riddled with inaccurate information, but that the details that were accurate had actually been fed by the police interrogator. The following day, Anthony was released from custody.
In August 2003, a federal civil wrongful conviction lawsuit was filed. During the investigation of that lawsuit, lawyers for the boy discovered evidence that had not been turned over to his trial lawyer as well as evidence pointing to other suspects.
The lawsuit alleged that police had leads that were never followed that the defense never knew about. These included potential suspects such as Devan’s mother’s boyfriend. According to the lawsuit, a year before Devan’s murder, the boyfriend,
a convicted felon and drug addict, had abducted the girl for three days. As a result of that abduction, the boyfriend was under an order of protection that prohibited him from being near Devan. Three weeks prior to the murder, the boyfriend had called Lori Duniver to try to rekindle their relationship. The boyfriend was never interviewed and his whereabouts at the time of the crime were not established.
In addition, Devan’s father, Richard Duniver, who had a history of violence, domestic abuse, and alcoholism, was in a dispute with Devan’s mother regarding child support for Devan, and a review of Devan’s child support payments was scheduled for July 27, 1998. His whereabouts also were never established.
Finally, two trained search dogs independently traced Devan’s scent in the early morning of June 28, 1998 to the garage door of a home near the Duniver residence. A convicted child molester, who had recently been released from prison, lived in a house adjacent to the one identified by the search dogs. That lead was never followed.
In February 2005, the cities of New Philadelphia and Millersburg settled for $1.5 million.
The portion of the lawsuit seeking damages from DA Bornhorst, whose name had changed to Spies, was dismissed. But on January 14, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit reinstated the lawsuit, holding that Spies could be held civilly liable despite her claim of prosecutorial immunity.
In September 2008, Spies and Tuscarawas County settled the lawsuit for $2.2 million.
– Maurice Possley