Unaccountable, Overzealous Prosecutors

In the early morning hours of Oct. 13, 1997, Julie Rea was sleeping in her home when she was awakened by a scream. Concerned about her son, Joel, she went to investigate and yelled his name, but his bed was empty. Julie said she then struggled with a masked intruder, chasing him through the house, bursting through two glass doors and into the backyard.

"I didn't know where Joel was, and I didn't know what to do," said Julie Rea Harper, who remarried in 2001 and now goes by her married name. "I was screaming for help. I fell to the ground, and the person was behind me hitting the back of my head, hitting my face into the ground."

This woman was tried and convicted, for murdering her own son. All of the evidence, which supported her story was deliberately ignored, because the prosecutor claimed that she was responsible for killing her own son. He in fact ridiculed the theory that she wasn't involved in the crime because the murderer used a kitchen knife that belonged to julie Rea to murder her son, and he could not conceive the notion that a serial killer could possible break into somebody's home, without bringing the murder weapon with him.

Special state prosecutor Ed Parkinson believed there was a solid case against Rea and he quickly pressed for an indictment because "To believe her, you would have to believe that this assailant came into her home in the middle of the night, in dark clothes, hiding his identity by the use of a mask, for the sole purpose of killing a 10-year-old boy. And after he accomplished his result he pulled off the mask to reveal his identity to her. Nonsense." Ed Parkinson called it nonsense but that is exactly what happened and the serial killer who murdered Julie Rea Harper's son said that is exactly what happened.

Tommy Lynn Sells, a death row serial killer with a history of drug addiction murdered Julie Rea's son. Sells confessed to Joel's murder, describing how on the night in question he had entered a stranger's house, stabbed someone repeatedly while the person slept, and then grappled with a woman as he made his escape.

In 2002 however, armed with only circumstantial evidence, the prosecution put Rea Harper's character on trial. Witness after witness questioned her behavior and demeanor at the scene, and in the courtroom. Her former husband, Kirkpatrick, portrayed her as a volatile and unstable woman.

The jury needed only five hours to find Rea Harper guilty of first-degree murder, and she was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

In 2004, more than two years after her conviction, the initial verdict was thrown out on a technicality, and Rea Harper was freed on probation.

In the summer of 2006, despite Tommy Lynn's confession, Julie Rea Harper was re-tried for the murder of her son. The Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University and the Chicago law firm Schiff Hardin decided to represent her in her appeal pro bono and would spend in time and money. The equivalent of $1 million on her defense.

Defense attorney Ron Safer maintained that Rea Harper's first lawyer had been in over his head, and that despite evidence to the contrary, police had unjustly focused on her as their prime suspect from the very beginning.

"All you have to do is examine the physical evidence and the circumstantial evidence for a concentrated couple of days," he said, "and you can reach no other conclusion but Julie was 100 percent innocent. "These police officers decided 30 seconds into this investigation that Julie had done it," Safer said. "They had who they believed was the perpetrator, and then they shaped the evidence to that end." [In a similar veign, police officers decided 30 seconds into their investigation that Scott Peterson had murdered his own wife and unborn child, and evidence that she had been kidnapped by a serial murderer was tragically ignored.]

Safer also said that the police never looked for evidence of an intruder. "There were fibers on the scene they never collected them," he said. "Why not? They didn't wanna know. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy," he continued. "[The police] say there's no evidence of a third person. They didn't look for the evidence. They didn't even fingerprint the scene."

Safer also argued that if Julie had stabbed her son to death, his blood would have drenched her clothing. "This was a bloody scene," he said. "There was blood everywhere, spattering all directions the T-shirt that Julie was wearing was virtually pristine."

In sharp contrast to the first trial, Rea Harper was encouraged to take the stand and tell her story in her own words. This time the jury saw a mother who was believable and sympathetic. One juror said, "There is no way that she could have done this to her own son. No way." And another said, "Her son is gone, her whole world is shattered."

The trial lasted two weeks. After 12 hours of deliberation, the jury found Julie Rea Harper not guilty.

When asked if it takes more than $1 million to prove you're innocent in America today, Safer said, "If you have prosecutors who are willing to go on a crusade to ignore the evidence, who are unaccountable, who are unchecked, then yes, it takes a million dollars to even those scales."

For Rea Harper and her defense team, the verdict was long overdue.

"Today is a day to celebrate justice," Safer told the media after Rea Harper's exoneration. "Today is a day to begin a healing process, and begin a mourning process that has been delayed nine years." How many innocent people are currently in prison because prosecutors and the police do not know or do not want to know anything about serial killers?

On the night the son was killed, Joel and his mother ate at McDonald's and watched videos until he went to bed at l0:30 PM. Harper told authorities she awoke to screams at 4AM on Oct. l3, 1997. Joel wasn't in his bed when she entered the room, but a man "sprung" at her. They fought into the hall and kitchen, and out the backyard, where the assailant slammed Harper's head into the ground. Harper ran to a neighbor's saying her son had been kidnapped---she was treated for a long cut on her right arm, an injury that required stitches. She had a black eye and scratches on her legs. Joel was found dead on the floor next to his bed. He was stabbed l3 times, two of the wounds directly in his heart. The bloody knife didn't have any fingerprints on it.

The police said there was no forced entry, despite broken glass.....and no evidence of a scuffle, despite evidence to the contrary.

Who kidnapped and murdered Laci Peterson?


 
 
 

  

 
 
 

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