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Nicholas Yarris

Other Pennsylvania Cases with Perjury or False Accusation
On December 16, 1981, 32-year-old Linda Craig, a sales associate from the Tri-State mall in Claymont, Delaware, was abducted in her car after her shift ended. When she did not arrive at home, hours after she was due, her husband called the police. Investigators quickly located her yellow Chrysler Cordoba, abandoned on a roadway in Chichester, Pennsylvania. The following day, Craig’s body was found - beaten, stabbed, and raped - in a church parking lot a mile and a half away from her car. Newly fallen snow covered her body. The murderer had cut open her thick winter clothing to commit the sexual assault. The police determined that she had bled to death from multiple stab wounds in her chest. Biological materials, including sperm samples and fingernail scrapings, were collected from the body. Police also collected gloves believed to have been left by the perpetrator from the victim’s car. The biological evidence collected from the crime scenes would prove to be pivotal in the years to come.

Four days after the discovery of the body, police stopped 20-year-old Nicholas Yarris on a Pennsylvania roadway for a traffic violation. The routine stop escalated into a violent confrontation between Yarris and the patrolman and ended in Yarris’s arrest for attempted murder of a police officer. While in custody for this offense, Yarris, in a gambit to gain his freedom, accused an acquaintance of committing the murder. When this suspect was ruled out by the police, Yarris became the prime suspect. According to a detective’s statement, Yarris was asked: “Did you mean to kill her?” and he had responded by saying “I never meant to kill anyone.” Police considered that statement an admission of guilt.

Vincent Cordova, the Director of Criminalistics at Toxicon Associates and National Medical Services Incorporated, testified about the conventional serological testing performed on the rape kit, which showed a mixture of blood types A and B. Craig was type A, and both Yarris and Craig’s husband were type B. Serology could not distinguish whether the type B fluids were deposited by Yarris or during intercourse with Craig’s husband. However, Cordova testified that “without a doubt” the sperm in the rape kit “was of recent vintage.” When asked how recent, Cordova replied “within three hours.” This effectively ruled out Craig’s husband as the source of the sperm, rendering the type B blood finding more incriminating of Yarris. But Cordova’s statement was false. It was well-established at time of trial that semen was observable 24 hours after coitus.

Along with the biological evidence, prosecutors relied on the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed Yarris admitted the crime to him.

There was also testimony from one of Craig's co-workers, Natalie Barr, that on numerous occasions during the week prior to the crime, Yarris had been lingering around Craig's sales booth at the shopping mall. Yarris exhibited suspicious behavior in the vicinity of the booth, repeatedly coming to the booth and asking the prices of the same merchandise over and over again. Barr testified that Craig had mentioned to her husband that a man was stalking her and staring at her near the booth.

In addition, Franklin Kaminski, a worker at an adjoining sales booth, testified that Craig had pointed out a man who had been staring strangely at her and scaring her. Kaminski recognized Yarris as being that man.

The prosecution also introduced evidence that Craig bore a significant resemblance to Yarris's former girlfriend, who had undergone a tumultuous and physically confrontational breakup with Yarris during the week before the crime.

On July 1, 1982, the jury convicted Yarris of murder, rape, and abduction. He was sentenced to death.

On July 2, 2003, Yarris was excluded from all biological material connected with the crime.

On September 3rd, 2003, based on Dr. Blake’s results, the court vacated Yarris’s conviction and the case was dismissed. He became the 13th death row prisoner to be exonerated by post-conviction DNA testing. Due, however, to a 1985 conviction for escape in Florida, Yarris still faced a 30-year sentence, and he remained in prison.

On January 15th, 2004, Florida reduced his sentence to 17 years (time served) and granted his release. The following day, Yarris was freed from a Pennsylvania prison after spending over 21 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. In 2008, Yarris settled a federal lawsuit against Delaware County for $4 million.

– Simon Cole and Maurice Possley

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Posting Date:  Before June 2012
Last Updated: 3/8/2022
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Rape, Robbery, Kidnapping
Reported Crime Date:1981
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False Confession, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes