Judge gave teen 76 years based on eyewitness he didn’t know was legally blind


Darien Harris, who was convicted of murder at 18 based on the testimony of an eyewitness who was legally blind.


Dexter Saffold took the witness stand more than five years ago and described the chaos he saw at a South Side gas station in 2011.


Saffold told Cook County Circuit Judge Nicholas Ford that he watched a man shoot and kill one man there and badly wound another.


And he pointed out who did it — the defendant, Darien Harris, the man in the courtroom wearing the jail jumpsuit.


There was no physical evidence linking Harris to the shooting that left Rondell Moore dead and Quincy Woulard badly hurt.


Still, the judge, hearing the case without a jury, found Saffold persuasive. Ford called him an “honest witness” and said he’d given “unblemished” testimony. Largely based on that testimony, he found Harris guilty and sent him to prison for 76 years for murder.


But what the judge and the accused didn’t know was that Saffold had been deemed legally blind years earlier by his doctors and the U.S. government, the result of advanced glaucoma.


Now, Harris, 26, is trying to get his conviction overturned, citing the eyewitness’s previously unrevealed vision problems and also that, when asked about his vision, Saffold testified he had no problem seeing.


“The mere fact that fact that he lied under oath about his ability to see should alone call his testimony into question,” Harris’s attorney says in a filing that asks the Cook County state’s attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit to review the case.


The application for review notes that another witness, who wasn’t called to testify, has provided a sworn statement saying detectives pressured him to identify someone he didn’t believe was the shooter.

The state’s attorney’s office would only confirm that the case is under review.


A crime-scene photo of the BP gas station at 6600 S. Stony Island Ave. where the shooting occurred. | Cook County court files


The shooting happened around 8:20 p.m. on June 7, 2011, at the BP station at 6600 S. Stony Island Ave. Moore and his brother Ronald Moore pulled in with car trouble. Woulard, a mechanic, was working under the hood when a Lexus pulled up.


According to prosecutors, Harris got out of the car and started shooting. Rondell Moore was shot three times in the back. Woulard was hit in the chest and under his right arm.


Harris had turned 18 three months before the shooting. According to court records, he came from a stable family and had no previous criminal record, and he got his high school equivalency diploma while awaiting trial.


When Harris went on trial in 2014, Saffold testified that he was heading home from a fast-food joint on his motorized scooter and was maybe 18 feet away when the gunfire started. He told the judge the shooter bumped into him, nearly causing him to drop the gun, as he ran off.


The issue of Saffold’s vision came up when Harris’s lawyer asked whether the man had diabetes. Saffold said he did. Asked by the lawyer whether he had any vision problems, Saffold said, “Yes, I do,” then said that, no, he didn’t have any difficulty seeing and continued to testify.


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