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Testimony from legally blind eyewitness results in murder conviction; case now under review

Man sentenced to 76 years by a judge who was unaware of the 'honest' witness' condition

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The murder conviction of a Chicago man is under review in Illinois, after it was revealed following trial that the key witness — who purportedly saw the crime and identified the perpetrator — is legally blind.

What are the details?

Dexter Saffold swore under oath five years ago that he saw Darien Harris kill a man at a South Side gas station in 2011. While there was no physical evidence linking Harris to the crime, and surveillance footage did not show the shooting or the suspect's face, Cook County Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford found Saffold to be an "honest witness" who gave an "unblemished" testimony, according to a report in the Chicago Sun-Times.

Based on that, Ford found Harris guilty of murder and sentenced him to 76 years in prison, where he remains. There was no jury trial, and the Illinois appellate court upheld the conviction in 2016.

What Ford didn't know at the time was that Saffold was legally blind, despite claiming in court that he had no problem seeing. Injustice Watch revealed "Saffold's vision problems have been documented in lawsuits he's filed over a span of 16 years against colleges, a landlord and two employers" for discriminating against him for his visual disability.

Doctors and the U.S. government deemed Saffold blind from his advanced glaucoma years before his testimony.

Never mind the fact that the sole witness whose testimony led to Harris's conviction is blind, he lied about that fact in court, attorneys for Harris contend. They are fighting to have their client's conviction overturned on that basis.

There were other witnesses present during at the shooting. Two of them initially claimed Harris was the perpetrator, but later recanted, alleging they were pressured by detectives to point the finger at Harris. The gas station attendant working that night also said he saw who committed the murder and recognized the suspect, but insisted Harris was not the guy who did it. That witness was not called to testify.

Anything else?

Illinois courts have started taking a second look at eyewitness testimony of late. The state's Supreme Court noted in 2017 that one-third of the 150 wrongful convictions in the state since 1989 were based on mistaken eyewitness testimony, according to attorney James Dimeas.

One last thing…
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