A Chicago, Illinois man’s murder conviction will be overturned after a new development: the key witness in the case is legally blind. Prosecutors plan to retry the case.
In 2014, 30-year-old Darien Harris was convicted of fatally shooting Rondell Moore and injuring gas station mechanic Quincy Woulard at a BP station on S. Stony Island Avenue onJune 7, 2011. Prosecutors said Rondell had arrived at the station with his brother, Ronald Moore, due to car problems.
Prosecutors alleged that Harris, who was 18 at the time, exited a Lexus and began shooting.
He allegedly struck Rondell three times in the back and Woulard in the chest and under his right arm.
However, the key witness to the murder, Dexter Saffold, who is legally blind, testified at the 2014 bench trial about returning home on his scooter. He stated that he was 18 feet away when Harris allegedly fired the weapon, according to the Sun-Times.
Saffold testified that the shooter was running away, had bumped into him, and almost dropped the gun. In court, he pointed to Harris as the accused killer.
At the time of the trial, Harris’ attorneys brought up on the record that Saffold had diabetes and asked him if he had trouble seeing. Saffold replied, “Yes, I do,” but then denied having any problems with his vision. New developments revealed that he had been receiving Social Security disability benefits as a result of his vision, starting in 2002, nearly a decade before the gas station shooting.
Saffold was diagnosed with 20/400 vision in both of his eyes and a field of vision of 10 degrees, according to court records. He mentioned his vision problems in a lawsuit he filed against colleges, a landlord, and two former employers, as reported by the Sun Times. In one of those lawsuits, Saffold claimed that Wilbur Wright College did not provide him with accommodations for his visual impairment, which resulted in difficulties for him in cla*s.
Harris’ attorneys asked the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit to look into the case, but they decided not to, according to defense lawyer Lauren Myerscough-Mueller.
At the time of the trial, neither the defense nor the judge knew about Saffold’s legal blindness.
“They didn’t do anything wrong because they didn’t know,” Saffold told WCBS in a 2019 interview about his witness testimony. “I didn’t have to tell nobody about my medical history.”
Asked if he was legally blind, he reportedly said he had glaucoma, which is an eye disease. He insisted that Harris was the shooter.
Defense attorney Myerscough-Mueller was excited about the decision to overturn Harris conviction but was surprised as to why the prosecutors would retry the case.
“There’s significant evidence of Darien’s innocence that makes it so that we’re surprised that the state is retrying the case,” she said, according to WCBS.
Another witness, Aaron Jones, is said to have driven Harris to the scene and identified him as the shooter. However, he recanted his story at trial and claimed that the police had threatened him into naming Harris as the shooter. Jones has since pa*sed away.
The defense said they have an advantage against the state’s case, stating that a gas station employee had described recognizing the shooter but had not been called to trial. He said it was another man whom he believed had been stealing something and had threatened to “blow his head off.”
The employee did not identify Harris when shown a lineup and claimed that the police tried to pressure him into identifying Harris as the shooter.
Judge Diana Kenworthy of the Circuit Court of Cook County ruled that Harris must remain in custody due to the gravity of the case and the potential for decades-long imprisonment if he is convicted again, as reported by The Chicago Sun Times.
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