A federal jury on Friday ruled that Chicago Police officers did not frame a woman who was charged and then exonerated in the murder of her son.
Nicole Harris, who was not at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse when the verdicts were read, had sought damages after she spent nearly eight years in prison for the alleged 2005 murder of 4-year-old Jaquari.
Seven of the eight officers named as defendants in Harris’ suit were in court and embraced after the verdicts.
“Nearly 13 years,” a teary-eyed officer said while bear-hugging an attorney. “Thirteen years and vindicated. You have no idea how it feels.”
Harris has insisted the child’s death was a “tragic accident.” But lawyers for the Chicago detectives who worked the case maintain that “she snapped” and “killed her son in cold blood” — and forensics back it up.
She claimed police had fabricated her confession while framing her for Jaquari’s death inside their Northwest Side home on May 14, 2005.
“We are very disappointed in the verdict,” said Nicole Auerbach, one of Harris’ attorneys. “Although Nicole [Harris] has been declared innocent of these charges by the courts, this decision confirms the difficulty in overcoming a false confession.”
The wrongful conviction case was a rare win for police at the end of a week that saw several criminal charges dropped in connection with alleged police misconduct — including what is believed to be the first mass exoneration in Cook County history.
“We are pleased with the verdict and the fact that the jury agreed that the officers who investigated this unfortunate and tragic case did not commit any misconduct,” city Law Department spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in an email.
The officers declined to speak with reporters.
A federal appeals court overturned Harris’ conviction in 2013, ruling that her older son, Diante, was wrongly barred from testifying at trial that Jaquari accidentally choked himself to death.
Harris says that after sending the boys to their room for playing outside without permission, she left for a nearby laundromat while the boys’ father napped. The father later checked on the boys as Harris was returning home and discovered that Jaquari was, “flat on his stomach on the floor, with a bubble coming out of his nose, and his face was purple.”
Later, Diante would explain he saw Jaquari playing a “Spider-man game” in their bedroom. He also said he saw Jaquari wrap a loose elastic band from a fitted sheet on their top bunk bed around his neck.
But investigators discovered a phone cord that could stretch from the phone jack in the kitchen into the boys’ bedroom. And they said Harris spontaneously confessed to killing her son, using the phone cord to strangle him.
Joey Mogul, one of Harris’ lawyers, told jurors during closing arguments Thursday that the confession was the “sole reason” for Harris’ conviction.
But Andy Hale, a lawyer for the eight officers listed as defendants in Harris’ lawsuit, described Harris’ story as “lie after lie after lie.” He also criticized Harris for not attending every day of the trial and for showing no emotion throughout the proceedings.
“Did she shed a tear?” Hale said. “I didn’t notice one.”