Thursday, July 16, 2020

Dion Harrell: (New Jersey): Disturbing story of utterly erroneous crime lab analyst DNA testimony sending an innocent man to prison for rape - and story of the state that (until now) resisted giving him a cent of compensation because of a technicality....Also abominable, Dion Harrell's prosecutors initially opposed testing the DNA evidence on the basis that state law only allowed testing if defendants were in custody.

"Blogger/extraordinaire Jeff Gamso's blunt, unequivocal, unforgettable message to the powers that be in California: "JUST TEST THE FUCKING DNA." (Oh yes, Gamso raises, as he does in many of his posts, an important philosophical question: This post is headed: "What is truth, said jesting Pilate.")..."So what's the harm? What, exactly, are they scared of? Don't we want the truth?" 


PUBLISHER'S NOTE: read the NJ.Com story to learn how the State of New Jersey, to its shame, denies compensation to innocent people like Dion Harrell who it has put through hell - and still cannot manage to enact reform legislation. Then, take a deep breath and  read the National Registry of Exoneration entry by Maurice Possley - and prepare to be upset.

Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog.


STORY: "In reversal, NJ will now pay innocent man locked up for years on rape convictions: by reporter S.P. Sullivan, published by on July 8, 2020. (Reporter S.P, Sullivan has reported on wrongful conviction cases, prison sexual abuse, police use of force and dysfunction in New Jersey’s medical examiner system.)

PHOTO CAPTION: “Dion Harrell, seen in 2016 after his conviction was overturned, spent years on a sex offender registry before he was cleared through DNA evidence for a 1988 rape.

GIST: “After spending over two years fighting to deny compensation to a man wrongly convicted of rape, Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration has agreed to settle its case and pay Dion Harrell for some of his lost time.

Harrell and officials in the state Treasury reached a settlement agreement in June and began finalizing the agreement last week, according to Harrell’s attorney, Glenn Garber.

Garber declined to disclose the settlement figure, citing his client’s concern for privacy. But the state’s Mistaken Imprisonment Act allows former prisoners to recoup up to $50,000 for every year spent wrongly in prison, in addition to legal fees.

Harrell was wrongly imprisoned for four years.

He was falsely accused of rape in 1988 and ended up serving four years in prison, as well as more than two decades as a registered sex offender.

He wasn’t exonerated until 2016, after the Innocence Project took up his cause and obtained new DNA testing ruling him out as the man who raped and robbed the 17-year-old victim in a Long Branch parking lot.

“People looked at me the wrong way,” Harrell told NJ Advance Media in a February interview. “I come to a barbecue, people say, ‘Watch out for the kids, he’s here.’”

In 2018, Harrell sued the state for compensation, but the state Attorney General’s Office, which represented Treasury officials in the case, argued that the law required him to file his claim within two years of his release from prison, meaning the window for his payment had long closed.

That would have required Harrell to sue the state claiming wrongful conviction back in 1997, as a convicted rapist out on parole.

His case seemed lost after a state appeals court sided with the Murphy administration, finding the two-year window meant Harrell didn’t qualify, even though courts had previously determined he served time for a heinous crime he “indisputably did not commit.”

Officials in the Treasury and state Attorney General’s Office initially said they were enforcing the letter of the law, but facing public pressure over the use of state resources to deny an innocent man compensation, authorities reversed course.

A spokesman for the attorney general confirmed Wednesday that a settlement had been reached but declined to comment further.

“This was a difficult situation, but we’re certainly happy that they did the right thing and agreed to settle,” Garber said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Garber said the settlement will also allow Harrell to seek additional payment if a bill currently before the state Legislature expanding the type and amount of compensation for mistaken imprisonment becomes law.

In recent years, state legislators have looked to expand existing laws, recognizing the burdens of people like Harrell who also spent years on parole or sex offender registries for crimes they did not commit.

But the law that allowed state authorities to deny Harrell’s payment remains on the books unchanged despite pledges from Murphy and state lawmakers to fix it.

A bipartisan bill pending in the state Legislature that would increase the pool of wrongly convicted people eligible for compensation, address the deadline issue Harrell faced and allow people who spent years wrongly on a sex offender registry to receive additional payment has stalled over several sessions.

The entire story can be read at:


Read the National Registry of Exonerations entry by Maurice Possley at the link below: Not long after 10 p.m. on September 18, 1988, a 17-year-old girl was walking home from her job at a McDonald’s restaurant in Long Branch, New Jersey, when a man dragged her off the street and raped her.

Three days later, she saw 22-year-old Dion Harrell in the parking lot of the McDonald’s and believed he was her attacker. Police picked up Harrell and brought him to a police station where Harrell protested his innocence. He pleaded with the police to take him to see the victim under the belief that if she saw him, she would realize her mistake. Although this was not typical procedure, the police finally relented and took Harrell into the room where the victim was and she confirmed her identification of him as the rapist.

Harrell was charged with second-degree sexual assault and third-degree theft. He went to trial in Monmouth County Circuit Court in May 1992.

The victim identified him as her attacker. A New Jersey State Police crime laboratory analyst testified that based on blood typing analysis, Harrell was among only 2 percent of the population who could not be eliminated as the source of the semen found in a rape kit. DNA testing was not available at that time in New Jersey.

Harrell testified and denied the attack. He said that on the night of the rape, he played basketball with a group of friends, including a police detective, and later rode his bicycle with a nephew to a friend’s house where he remained until he went home about 12:30 a.m. The detective testified that he had played basketball with Harrell on several occasions, but could not remember if he played with Harrell on the night of the rape. Harrell’s mother and sister testified that he came home from basketball, showered and went to his friend’s house with his nephew around 10:30. A woman testified she saw Harrell and his nephew riding their bikes and the friend testified that Harrell and the nephew were at his house until 12:30 a.m. 

On May 19, 1992, the jury convicted Harrell of second-degree sexual assault and acquitted him of the theft charge. Harrell was sentenced to eight years in prison.

He was released on parole after four years in prison and was required to register as a sex offender. Over the next several years, he was twice convicted of failing to properly register and was sentenced to probation. He drifted in and out of homelessness and was unable to get and maintain a job because he was on the sex offender registry.

In 1997, while still in prison, Harrell wrote to the Innocence Project in New York requesting DNA testing. The Innocence Project, which has a backlog of more than 10,000 such requests, agreed to take on his case in 2013. An investigation of the case showed that the crime lab analyst’s testimony was erroneous. It was not the case that 98 percent of the male population could be eliminated as the source of the sample. In fact, none of the male population could be excluded, the evidence showed.

Dr. Joseph Warren, an expert in forensic biology, examined the laboratory reports and the trial transcript and concluded that the prosecution’s crime lab analyst had made “egregious misstatements of conventional serology and statistics” which were “contrary to scientific principles generally accepted at the time (and today).”

In November 2013, the Innocence Project sought the physical evidence in the case from the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. Officials said the evidence no longer existed. However, in the fall of 2014, the Prosecutor’s Office said it had located slides made from the rape kit.

However, the prosecution opposed testing the evidence on the basis that state law only allowed testing if defendants were in custody. Attorney Vanessa Potkin, Director of Post-Conviction Litigation for the Innocence Project, argued that spending 20 years on a sex offender registry restricted his life made it fundamentally unfair to deny him evidence that could prove his innocence, and that long-established common law also provided an avenue for the court to order testing. Moreover, Potkin noted that the National District Attorney’s Association had adopted a policy that DNA testing should be performed in any case at any stage, even after all appeals had been exhausted, if the testing could determine innocence.

In February 2015, two weeks before a judge was to rule on the motion for testing, the Prosecutor’s Office agreed to allow the testing to be performed.

While the testing was being performed, the Innocence Project’s policy reform team worked to change the law in New Jersey. In November 2015, the state expanded the law to allow for DNA testing for defendants after their prison terms are over.

In July 2016, the DNA test results excluded Harrell as the rapist and the prosecution said it would ask that Harrell’s conviction be vacated.

On August 3, 2016, the conviction was vacated and the case was dismissed. The prosecution also requested that his two convictions for failing to register be vacated. That motion was granted and those charges also were dismissed.

In July 2018, Harrell filed a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking compensation for his wrongful conviction. In August 2018, Harrell filed a claim for compensation with the state of New Jersey. In June 2020, the claim was settled for an undisclosed amount."

PUBLISHER'S NOTE: I am monitoring this case/issue. Keep your eye on the Charles Smith Blog for reports on developments. The Toronto Star, my previous employer for more than twenty incredible years, has put considerable effort into exposing the harm caused by Dr. Charles Smith and his protectors - and into pushing for reform of Ontario's forensic pediatric pathology system. The Star has a "topic"  section which focuses on recent stories related to Dr. Charles Smith. It can be found at: Information on "The Charles Smith Blog Award"- and its nomination process - can be found at: Please send any comments or information on other cases and issues of interest to the readers of this blog to:  Harold Levy: Publisher: The Charles Smith Blog;
FINAL WORD:  (Applicable to all of our wrongful conviction cases):  "Whenever there is a wrongful conviction, it exposes errors in our criminal legal system, and we hope that this case — and lessons from it — can prevent future injustices."
Lawyer Radha Natarajan:
Executive Director: New England Innocence Project;