On June 22, 1973, 40-year-old Harvey Hopkins and 31-year-old Harry Harling got into a dispute regarding a five-dollar bill in a bar in Chicago, Illinois. Harling and Hopkins began wrestling over the money. Hopkins eventually pinned Harling to the ground. The two men then shook hands and separated. They got into another altercation a short time later as Harling attempted to leave the bar and Hopkins followed him to the door. Witnesses agreed that Hopkins struck Harling in the back of the head near the door of the bar and then the two men exited. There were no other witnesses to the rest of this second confrontation, which took place just outside the door and ended with Harling fatally stabbing Hopkins.
The following month, a Cook County grand jury indicted Harling on a charge of murder. Harling claimed he stabbed Hopkins in self-defense.
Public defender James J. Doherty represented Harling at his trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County before Judge Richard J. Fitzgerald in October 1973. Harling opted for a bench trial rather than a jury trial. Several witnesses to the initial fight between Harling and Hopkins testified, as well as the police officers who arrived on the scene shortly after the stabbing. A police officer testified that when he arrived at the bar after the stabbing, Harling had blood inside his ear.
Harling testified that as he was attempting to leave the bar after his initial fight with Hopkins, Hopkins followed him and hit him hard on the back of the head multiple times. He testified that they stepped outside and Hopkins then grabbed him around the neck and began choking him such that Harling was unable to breathe. Harling testified that he grabbed a knife from his pocket and stabbed Hopkins, who released his chokehold. Harling then pushed Hopkins, who stumbled back into the bar. Harling acknowledged in his testimony that he initially denied to police that he stabbed Hopkins.
Judge Fitzgerald convicted Harling of voluntary manslaughter on October 25, 1973. On November 16, 1973, Fitzgerald sentenced Harling, who had a previous armed robbery conviction, to three to nine years in the Illinois State Penitentiary.
Harling appealed the conviction. The Illinois Appellate Court found there was strong indication that Harling’s use of force was justifiable. On June 16, 1975, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Harling’s conviction.
On May 14, 1976, Governor Daniel Walker pardoned Harling on the basis of innocence.
Harling filed a claim for wrongful incarceration under the Illinois Court of Claims Act. The Illinois Court of Claims awarded him $12,500 on November 23, 1977.
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.