JAMES HARDEN was wrongfully convicted for the sexual assault and murder of 14-year old Cateresa Mathews when he was 17 years old. Police made no arrests and had no leads for over 10 months following Mathews’s death. On October 20, 1992, a police report indicated that 15-year old Keno Barnes allegedly informed police that Harden’s brother, Jonathan Barr, that Barr had told him that when he last saw Mathews, she was getting into a car occupied by Robert Lee Veal and Robert Taylor. At the time of the crime, Barr, Veal, and Taylor were 14 years old.
After police interrogated Veal for more than five hours outside the presence of his parents or counsel, Veal signed a handwritten statement implicating himself, Jonathan Barr, 15, Robert Taylor, 15, Shainne Sharp, 17, and James Harden, 17, in the sexual assault and murder of Matthews. Later that day, Taylor signed a handwritten statement, again outside the presence of his parents or counsel, implicating himself and the other four teenagers in the crime. On October 31, after more than 21 hours in police custody, Sharp also signed a handwritten statement implicating himself and the other four teenagers in the crime. The three confessions contradicted each other on the basic facts of the case.
In June 1994, before any of the teenagers were tried, the Illinois State Police crime lab identified a lone male DNA profile from sperm recovered from the victim’s body. Even though all five defendants were excluded as the source of the semen, the prosecution pushed forward. Veal and Sharp pled guilty to first-degree murder and received 20-year sentences in exchange for testifying against Taylor, Harden, and Barr. Over the next two years, all three were convicted. Taylor and Harden were both sentenced to 80 years, while Barr was sentenced to 85 years.
In August 2009, Harden sought DNA testing, a request later joined by Taylor and Barr. In March 2011, DNA testing uncovered a full male profile that matched the DNA profile of a violent serial offender, Willie Randolph. At the time of Mathew’s murder, Randolph was 33, living in the victim’s neighborhood, and on parole after serving a 20-year sentence for armed robbery. He was apprehended by authorities on April 12, 2011.
On November 3, 2011, a judge vacated the convictions of Taylor, Harden, and Barr. The State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed all charges against the three men, as well as Veal and Sharp. Taylor, Harden, and Barr were subsequently released from prison. Veal, who had already served his prison term and been released in 2002, also had his conviction was vacated on December 12, 2011. Soon after, Sharp’s conviction was vacated on January 4, 2012, though he remains in an Indiana prison on an unrelated drug conviction.
Harden is currently entering the trucking profession.
- Law School's Exoneration Project helps free wrongly convicted man (U. Chi.)
- Second Member Of Exonerated Trio Released From Prison (CBS Chicago)
- After years in prison, exonerated man 'going to move around' (Chi. Tribune)