Murder conviction of Chicago man who spent 12 years behind bars overturned because key eyewitness was legally blind

A Chicago man who spent more than a decade in prison after he was found guilty of murder primarily based on the testimony of a “blind eyewitness” will get a new trial, his attorney said.

Darien Harris, 30, was convicted following a 2011 shooting that left 23-year-old Rondell Moore dead and another seriously injured, the Chicago Tribune reported. Harris, who is Black, was 18 at the time and has always maintained his innocence.

On Tuesday, a Cook County judge vacated Harris’ conviction, the Exoneration Project said. Judge Diana Kenworthy said it was best to “start over,” according to the newspaper.

Attorney Lauren Myerscough-Mueller with Exoneration Project, who is representing Harris, could not immediately be reached for comment on Saturday.

“Mr. Harris has spent 12 years wrongfully imprisoned, having been arrested when he was just 18,” the organization said in a statement on Facebook. “His conviction was secured almost solely through the testimony of a blind eyewitness, who the court repeatedly referred to as credible when wrongfully convicting Mr. Harris.”

“We look forward to continuing to fight for his freedom,” the organization continued.

The witness was allegedly suffering from advanced glaucoma at the time of the crime, the organization said. He had severely limited visibility, and surveillance video from the scene revealed that he was much farther away than he initially claimed to be, according to the organization.

Several years ago, Harris’ family and legal team had urged Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx to look at the case, arguing that the witness had allegedly failed to disclose that he was legally blind, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Moore, the victim, had pulled into a local gas station to look at his vehicle when he was shot three times, the Chicago Tribune reported. He ran from the gas station and died in a nearby parking lot. A local mechanic who was helping Moore was injured in the shooting.

The newspaper reported that surveillance video showed a man walking from a black Lexus to the area where the shooting occurred and then running away. The man’s face was not visible in the video.

Harris said he was at home watching a basketball game at the time of the shooting. He was arrested days after the murder, convicted and sentenced to 76 years in prison by a now-retired judge.

The Exoneration Project said there were also issues with “police misconduct” during Harris’ case. The organization said that during the trial, the alleged getaway driver in the shooting “unequivocally recanted” his initial statements identifying Harris and alleged that police coerced him into making a false identification by threatening to send him to jail for the rest of his life.

“Another witness in the case claims that officers similarly attempted to coerce her to identify Mr. Harris,” the organization said in its statement.

Because of the seriousness of the crime, the judge said, Harris will not be released as he waits for a new trial, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. A new trial date has not been set.