Chicago man convicted of murder appeals after learning that eyewitness who said he saw him pull the trigger is blind
Dexter Saffold testified in court that he saw Darien Haris kill a man outside a gas station, but now it has come to light that he has been collecting disability benefits for being legally blind
A Chicago man who was jailed for 76 years on murder charges is appealing his conviction after finding out that the key witness who purportedly saw the crime and identified him as the perpetrator is legally blind.
Darien Harris was jailed in 2014 for shooting dead a man outside a Chicago gas station on June 11, 2011 after a witness identified as Dexter Saffold swore under oath that Harris committed the crime. According to reports, Saffold told Cook County Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford that he watched Harris shoot and kill Rondell Moore outside the gas station and badly wound another victim identified as Quincy Woulard.
Although there was no physical evidence or surveillance footage linking Harris to the crime, Judge Nicholas Ford was convinced and found Saffold to be an "honest witness" who gave an "unblemished" testimony.
Harris, who was 18 at the time of the alleged crime, was charged guilty of murder and sentenced to 76 years in prison. The Illinois appellate court upheld the conviction in 2016.
Since then, Harris, who is now 26, has learned that Saffold is legally blind and has been claiming disability benefits because of it for years. Saffold's vision problems have been documented in lawsuits he's filed over 16 years against various colleges, a landlord and two employers for allegedly discriminating against him for his visual disability.
Doctors and the US government had deemed Saffold blind from Glaucoma, years before his testimony against Harris. Saffold had lied about his vision in court, attorneys for Harris contend.
Other witnesses from the site of the crime said they were pressured by detectives to point the finger at Harris. Two of them initially claimed Harris was the perpetrator, but later withdrew their statements.
In a sworn statement taken last June by Harris’s current lawyer and a defense investigator, the gas station attendant working that night, who was not called to testify, alleged that he saw who committed the murder and insisted that it wasn't Harris who was behind the crime.
Harris and his lawyers are fighting to get the conviction overturned and the case is being reviewed. Of late, Illinois courts have started taking a second look at eyewitness testimony. The state's Supreme Court noted in 2017 that one-third of the 150 wrongful convictions in the state since 1989 were based on false eyewitness testimony.