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Rodney Harris

Other Cook County Exonerations with Official Misconduct
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On June 14, 2001, 15-year-old Rodney Harris placed multiple calls to 911 in Chicago, Illinois, reporting that a relative had verbally threatened him. When police finally arrived, they put him in a squad car and took him to a police station.

Fifteen hours later, police said Harris signed a confession admitting that he had sexually assaulted two children. Harris’s grandmother, who arrived at the end of the interrogation, also signed the confession, but with an “X” because she could neither read nor write.

Police said that Roy Harris, the father of the two children, told them that he saw Rodney molesting the children.

Almost immediately, Rodney Harris said the confession was false and that he signed it because he had been chained to the wall of an interrogation room for hours and was denied anything to eat or drink.

Harris was charged as an adult with two counts of aggravated criminal assault. On May 10, 2002, he pled guilty and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In May 2005, Harris filed a post-conviction motion contending his defense lawyers provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to investigate the case and by allowing him to plead guilty when there was insufficient evidence that a crime had occurred.

The petition was denied, but Harris appealed, and in 2006, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that decision. The appeals court noted that none of the prosecution’s evidence was sufficient to support the charges of aggravated criminal assault because there was no evidence of penetration of either of the children. The court said, “We find that trial counsel’s advice to plead guilty to aggravated criminal assault may have been unreasonable.”

After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court again denied the petition for a new trial. However, in March 2010, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that ruling and vacated Harris’s guilty plea. The court said that “but for (defense) counsel’s advice, (Harris) likely would not have pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal sexual assault.”

On July 13, 2010, Harris was released on house arrest. In 2011, Roy Harris, the father of the two children, gave a sworn affidavit to Harris’s lawyers denying that he ever told the detectives that Harris had sexually assaulted the children. As the case proceeded to trial, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Steven Goebel barred the prosecution from using the confession. On May 3, 2013, the prosecution dismissed the charges.

Harris filed a malpractice lawsuit against his original defense attorney, but the lawsuit was dismissed. He also filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against John Collins, the lead detective who interrogated him, and the prosecutor, Cook County assistant state’s attorney Brian Sexton. The lawsuit was pending in April 2017.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/11/2017
State:Illinois
County:Cook
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2001
Convicted:2002
Exonerated:2013
Sentence:15 years
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:15
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No