Thursday, June 08, 2000

Murder conviction overruled

Boy, 13, coerced into confession in stabbing of 5-year-old

By Thomas J. Sheeran
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — A boy's confession in the murder of a 5-year-old neighbor was coerced by police, an appeals court ruled Wednesday in a decision that effectively overturned his conviction.

        The 5th Ohio District Court of Appeals in Canton ruled in the appeal by 13-year-old Anthony Harris. He was convicted by a juvenile court judge last year of fatally stabbing Devan Duniver in June 1998 in New Philadelphia.

        “I'm thrilled,” Cyndi Harris, Anthony's mother, said at a news conference with her attorneys in Cleveland. “My son confessed to nothing, and the appeals court did the right thing.”

        The boy, who was sentenced to juvenile detention until his 21st birthday, is entitled to another trial, said his attorney, Daniel R. Warren.

        Tuscarawas County Juvenile Court Judge Linda A. Kate, who presided at the first, non-jury trial, said it would be up to the prosecutor whether to bring the case to trial again.

        County Prosecutor Amanda Spies Bornhorst said she would first appeal the decision to the Ohio Supreme Court. “We are obviously very disappointed,” she said.

        Judge Kate scheduled a hearing for this morning on whether to release the boy from juvenile detention pending the outcome of the appeal or a new trial.

        The appeals court said it was convinced that under accusatory questioning by Millersberg police Chief Thomas Vaughn, the boy felt he had “no choice” but to confess to the murder.

        It also was unreasonable to think a youngster of his age could properly invoke his right to keep silent, the appeals court said.

        The court said it disagreed with Judge Kate's finding that the boy had “knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently waived” his rights not to speak to police.

        “Anthony was an easy target,” his mother said. “It could have been anyone's child.”

        The boy had helped in the search when Devan disappeared from her New Philadelphia home. He was charged in Devan's death after her body was found in brush near her home.


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