Convicting the Innocent
DNA Exonerations Database

William Harris

First NameWilliam
Last NameHarris
Year of Conviction1987
Year of Exoneration1995
State of ConvictionWest Virginia
Trial, Bench Trial, or Guilty PleaTrial
Type of CrimeRape
Death SentenceNo
Gender of ExonereeMale
Race of exonereeBlack
Type of Innocence Defense
  • Alibi
Description / Quotes from Testimony Concerning Defense

● Defendant’s girlfriend and her parents testified that defendant was at their house the day of the crime.

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

“Q: I would like to ask you if you did that violent, vicious crime? A. No, I didn’t.”

Types of evidence at trial
  • Eyewitness
  • Forensic Evidence
Type of Forensic Evidence
  • Serology
Types of Flawed Forensics
  • Invalid
Reason why invalid(1), (3) Masking; false probability
Brief Quote / Description of Testimony

Victim and Harris both O secretors, PGM 1+. Swabs were type O, PGM 1+. But the analyst testified, “[All characteristics identified] were consistent with the blood characteristics identified from Mr. Harris’ known blood. There were no inconsistencies identified. Q. She could not have deposited that seminal fluid; is that correct? A. That’s correct.” “And when you combine those percentages, it would be approximately 11.8 percent of a given population could have those three blood characteristics, the three blood characteristics being an O, a 1+, and a secretor.” “Taking in conclusion, it would be approximately 5.9 percent or 5.9 percent of that given population being the combination if they were males.” The testimony ignored masking and falsely divided the Invalid statistic in half. See Part II.A.1 for a description of the problem of masking and non-quantification and discussion of similar cases and Part II.A.3 describing such invalid division.

Identity of eyewitness
  • Intraracial Identificaiton
  • Victim
Lineup Procedures
  • Lineup
  • Photo array
Suggestive Procedures

Yes ● Victim not told attacker might not be in line-up ● Suggestive line-up – others had mustaches

Quotes from testimony #1

“Was there a time that a officer . . . asked you if you knew a person named William Harris? A. Yes. . . . Q. Did they ask you whether that was the man who assaulted you? A. Yes. Q. And what did you tell them? A. No.” [This is referring to the son of the defendant] Harris only person repeated from year-book photo array to in-person line-up. “Well, of course she knew what the procedure was about, that it was to look at these men for the purpose of seeing if any of the men could be the person involved. And so there wasn’t a lot in the way of instructions given at that moment. She was just asked to stand and look at these men.” “Q. So you were trying to match the other people in the lineup with Mr. Harris – – A. (Interposing) That’s correct, yes sir. Q. (Continuing) – – As opposed to any description that might have been previously given by the victim? A. Exactly, yes, sir.”

Unreliable Identification?

Yes ● Initially uncertain of identification ● Discrepancy in description – described person 5’7” or so and 165 to 175 lbs, but he was 6’ and 185 lbs, and victim could not describe attacker well or prepare a composite

Quotes from testimony #2

Officer testified – “She had told me that the best that she could recall was that the individual was black, he was a male, she estimated his height to be about five foot eight; and also she had said he probably weighed approximately 160 pounds; and that, you know what he was wearing; and that he had short, what they call short-cropped, Afro-type hair-do“ Victim testified: “And you never told the deputy that the assailant was five foot seven? A. No.” “Q. Did you–do you recall testifying in what’s been referred to as the, as a, at a previous hearing in this matter on January 10th of 1986? A. Yeah. Q. And do you recall at that time answering questions to the effect that your assailant was approximately five foot eight? A. No, I don’t remember that particular question. Q. And you were–do you recall how that, how that worked or what transpired when you were down there trying to draw up the composite? A. I just couldn’t do it. Q. And why was that? A. I don’t know, I just couldn’t do it. Q. Was it because you didn’t, weren’t able to identify enough characterisitcs, facial characteristics to draw up the composite? A. I don’t know the reason for it, but I just, I just didn’t do it.

Highest level reachedNR

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