Convicting the Innocent
DNA Exonerations Database

Nicholas Yarris

First NameNicholas
Last NameYarris
Year of Conviction1982
Year of Exoneration2003
State of ConvictionPennsylvania
Trial, Bench Trial, or Guilty PleaTrial
Type of CrimeRape and Murder
Death SentenceYes
Gender of ExonereeMale
Race of exonereeWhite
Type of Innocence Defense
  • Alibi
Description / Quotes from Testimony Concerning Defense

● Witnesses including owner of deli, parents and sister testified that defendant was away from the scene of the crime when the crime occurred.

Did the defendant testify at trial?Yes
Quotes from Exoneree Testimony

Missing portion of trial transcript with defendant’s testimony, but he apparently recanted his confession and asserted his innocence.

Types of evidence at trial
  • Confession
  • Eyewitness
  • Forensic Evidence
  • Informant
Were non-public facts alleged?Yes
Type of Forensic Evidence
  • Serology
Types of Flawed Forensics
  • Valid
Brief Quote / Description of Testimony

The analyst described that B substances foreign to the victim were observed and that Yarris was a B secretor. The victim’s husband was also Type B.

Identity of eyewitness
  • Intraracial Identificaiton
  • Non-victim
Multiple eyewitnesses2
Lineup Procedures
  • Composite drawing
  • Photo array
Suggestive Procedures


Unreliable Identification?

Yes ● Initial nonidentification ● Initially uncertain ● Discrepancies in description – height, hair, no glasses

Quotes from testimony #2

Q: And so would it be fair to say at least at the Preliminary Hearing on February 18, 1982, which was the first time you saw Mr. Yarris in person, other than the times you claimed to see him in the mall, you were not able to say with certainty that it was the individual you saw in the mall? A: I wasn’t sure until that night. Q: And would it be fair to say you are not sure now? A: Yes, I am sure.” Another eyewitness stated, “Well, I had somewhat of a doubt, but I specifically told him four. The reason I had the doubt is because this picture here is a lot more clean cut looking than Mr. Yarris I had seen.” One eyewitness described, “At that time did you tell the detective that the individual had dark-colored brown or black hair which was straight down to the shoulders? A: I said it was darkish and down about to his shoulders in the back.” Defendant had reddish blonde hair.

Examples of Non-Public or Corroborated Facts and Inconsistencies

● That the victim had been raped ● A brown landau roof on the victim’s car.

Quotes from law enforcement testimony

Q: ‘Did you or the C.I.D. ever release any information concerning the rape?’ A (Detective Martin): ‘No, as a matter of fact a conscious decision was made not to release any such information and to safeguard any such information about rape.’ Q: Did anybody form the C.I.D. ever release any information about the Landau roof?’ A: ‘The same pertains to the Landau roof. This is one of the things we decided to keep confidential in the investigation from the press.

Quotes from prosecution arguments

“These are the two crucial things, the Landau roof and the rape which were not made public and of course when Nick is asked about it, ‘I must have guessed”

Interrogation RecordedAudiotaped part of interrogation
Jailhouse informant, Co-defendant, Incentivized WitnessJ
Examples of Non-Public or Corroborated Facts and Inconsistencies● Non-public facts included information about where victim worked and corroboration of eyewitness accounts.
Quotes from testimony #3

Jailhouse informant testified: “His eyes were like watery and all and he says, ‘If I had the chance again, I never would have killed her.'” “He says that he was at the mall a couple of times and there was a girl there that seen him at least twenty-five times and she wouldn’t be able to identify him, and he don’t see how they could place him at the mall.” He said “while he was at the mall he was wearing bluejeans, boots and all…” which corroborated testimony of eyewitnesses.

Quotes regarding any deal or leniency with informant, or prior use of informant

At sidebar, prosecutor agreed that “we’re going to recommend that he get concurrent time on whatever sentences and that he serve his time in Bucks County.” His sentencing was postponed until after Yarris’ trial.

Highest level reachedFederalHabeas
Claims Raised During All Appeals and Postconviction
  • Actual Innocence
  • Brady
  • Coerced Confession
  • Due Process
  • Improper Capital Sentencing Instructions
  • Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
  • Jackson Claim
  • Jury Instructions
  • Jury Misconduct
  • Jury Selection
  • Motion for DNA Testing
  • Prosecutorial Misconduct
  • Sentencing — Noncapital
  • Sixth Amendment Right to Counsel
  • State Court Newly Discovered Evidence Claim
  • State Law Evidence Claim
  • Suggestive Eyewitness Identification
  • Willfull Destruction of Material Evidence
Harmless Error Rulings
  • G
  • NP
Citations to judicial opinions

Com. v. Yarris, 518 A.2d 261 (Pa. 1986)
Com v. Yarris, 549 A.2d 513 (Pa. 1988)
Yarris v. Pennsylvania, 491 U.S. 910 (1989)
Comm v. Yarris, 671 A.2d 218 (Pa. 1995)
Yarris v. Fulcomer, 1989 WL 155897 (E.D.Pa. 1989)

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