On the evening of March 24, 1987, a six-year-old girl known as T.H. was abducted while attending her sister’s gymnastics competition at a middle school in Garland, Utah. Eight hours later, T.H. was located about 90 miles away, in Malta, Idaho. She said the man who abducted her had sexually assaulted her and then dropped her off at a grocery store with a dime and instructions to call her parents. She provided a description of her abductor’s four-door blue car, his brown “wiener dog,” and his heavy smoking, and she stated that he “talked funny.”
The following day, 45-year-old Frank James Harvey filed a complaint with the police department in nearby Tremonton, Utah, about a violent hitchhiker. Harvey, who drove a blue car and had a dachshund riding along with him, was arrested at a highway rest stop near Brigham City, Utah, shortly after filing the report. Harvey described himself as a transient person who was looking for work in the area. He had no criminal record. Harvey’s car and dog fit the descriptions provided by the girl, but when she viewed Harvey in a lineup, she did not identify him. Nonetheless, Harvey was charged with aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sexual abuse of a child, to which he pleaded not guilty.
In August 1987, Harvey’s case went to trial, with the girl’s testimony serving as the primary evidence against him. The jury convicted Harvey on both charges, and he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Soon after his conviction, Harvey filed a motion for a new trial. On January 8, 1988, his motion was granted. Both the circumstantial nature of the evidence against Harvey and the jury having been permitted to view Harvey in shackles provided the basis for granting a new trial. In addition, Sergeant Ken Adams of the Box Elder County Sheriff’s Department testified that 31-year-old Thomas C. Headley, a northern Utah man who also fit several of the descriptors provided by T.H., had been newly identified as a suspect in the abduction and assault. Following this testimony, First District Court Judge Gordon Low ordered the release of Harvey pending his new trial.
In a police lineup, T.H. identified Headley as the man who had abducted and assaulted her. On June 2, 1988, Headley, who was on probation for an unrelated offense, was charged with aggravated sexual abuse of child, child kidnapping, and aggravated kidnapping. Following Headley’s arraignment, all charges against Harvey were dismissed.
In May 1989, Headley’s trial ended in a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a verdict. After her daughter had been through the ordeal of two trials, T.H.’s mother said, “I’d just like this whole thing to be done.” Ultimately, the charges against Headley were dismissed following the mistrial.
After Harvey’s release, he said, “Even though I’m cleared, I don’t feel like I’ve been cleared. A lot of people still think I am guilty. I can’t get good work just because of my name alone. This all made my dad have three heart attacks, and made my parents spend their life savings.”
Harvey filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Box Elder County, its sheriff’s department, and two of its deputies. Harvey sought at least $50,000. “They don't deserve to be public servants,” he said. “They covered up the color of my dog and didn't let the little girl see it in court. My dog is black and tan, and I understand the other fellow's is a reddish brown - the color of dog she said the kidnapper had.”
The lawsuit was dismissed in October 1990, with Judge Bruce Jenkins finding that relief for Harvey’s wrongful conviction should be sought in state court, not federal. “That the plaintiff should be compensated in some way is obvious,” Judge Jenkins stated. “But the remedy, whatever it may be, is not to be found in this court.”
- Meghan Barrett Cousino
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.