In June 2011, Darien Harris was an 18-year-old teenager when a video of a shooting at a BP gas station at 66th and Stony Island in Chicago revealed a shooter, who wasn’t identifiable, get out of a car, shoot two men, run across the parking lot and then fire shots at an on-site camera. One of the men died. The only witness at the time of the murder was Dexter Saffold.
There was no physical evidence just the word of a man who claimed he saw what happened. In 2014, Saffold picked the then high school senior out of a police lineup identifying him as the shooter. Darien Harris had no prior criminal record. He testified in court that he was on a scooter going home when he saw Harris, now 26, shoot Rondell Moore and Quincy Woulard in the summer of 2011.
Based on Saffold’s testimony, Harris was sentenced to 76 years in prison. What makes this case appalling is Dexter Saffold is legally blind and the appellate court in Illinois was aware of that major detail when the high court upheld Harris’ murder conviction.
There also appears to be police corruption involved yet again by the Chicago Police Department. One witness recanted his statement on the stand which put Harris at the scene of the crime. That person stated had told the police “whatever they wanted to hear.”
The gas station employee, who testified, felt that Chicago police detectives pressured him to pin the crime on Harris as well.
Cook County Judge Nicholas Ford, who has now retired, was a former prosecutor who had come under fire for repeatedly showing bias in cases that involved the Chicago police.
Not only was this a travesty of justice but Harris spending 76 years in prison for a crime he may not have committed has robbed him and his family of a life he never had a chance to live. And this was all based on the words of one legally blind man who maintains his testimony is valid.
“The guy I seen, he did the shooting, and I stand by that,” said Dexter Saffold.
Health records and documents from the federal government indicated that Saffold suffered from advanced glaucoma and had been declared legally blind several years prior to the trial. He even received Social Security benefits because of the disability. Saffold had been receiving SSI benefits for over 10 years when his testimony was used against Harris.
He filed a discrimination lawsuit against City Colleges of Chicago 2012 when he alleged his vision needs were not accommodated while he was enrolled in an adult education class. Saffold settled the case out of court three months before he testified against Darien Harris in his murder trial.
Cook County Prosecutor Kim Foxx and the Conviction Integrity Unit are now taking another look at the case.