From [HERE] He comes across as reserved and as a reluctant spokesperson for a miscarriage of justice. But who can blame Dion Harrell, who just last week was formally cleared of a 1988 rape, even the prosecutor now admits, he did not commit.
Schmertz: Can you describe to me your feeling when at least at that point this chapter of your life was over?
Harrell: I felt good.
Harrell and his attorney, Vanessa Potkin from The Innocence Project, sat down with us to share Harrell’s story — a tortured journey through the justice system that began on the streets of Long Branch.
Going from accused, to convicted to eventually cleared. A woman had accused him of raping her, and it is largely on that testimony that he went to jail.
Harrell: It was crazy.
Harrell: It was like a shock, man. I was getting arrested for something. They took me downtown. They kept questioning me. I kept asking them what they were locking me up for. When they told me I just flipped out.
Schmertz: And that does happen. People think eyewitness testimony is so compelling, but the cases seem to suggest that without additional evidence it’s often wrong.
Potkin: That’s right. The mind is not like a tape recorder — people think you can go back and replay exactly what happened. In this case the victim was working at McDonalds and she was on her way home, she lived about a block and a half away, when she was attacked. Dion happened to live across the street from that McDonalds. He was 22 years old at the time. You know, he was just in the McDonalds parking lot when she saw him and thought he was her attacker.
So in 1988, Harrell was arrested and charged with rape. At just 22 years old, Harrell couldn’t afford an attorney, so he was represented by a public defender, who he says kept pushing for him to plead guilty.
Harrell: From the door, she tried to get me to cop out. I told her she was crazy. I’m not going to cop out to nothing.
But Harrell did go to trial, and was convicted in 1992 and spent four years in prison. In 1996, upon release, he had to register as a sex offender. Then in 2013, after receiving numerous letters from Harrell, The Innocence Project, a nonprofit co-founded by famed OJ Simpson attorney Barry Scheck, agreed to take the case.