Shooting suspect tied to 1998 case

Boy, 15, in custody but not charged

he was falsely accused of murder at age 7

June 18, 2006|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A boy falsely accused in one of Chicago's most infamous killings faces new charges eight years later, suspected in a Calumet Park shooting that left a man critically wounded.

The 15-year-old, whom the Tribune is not naming because he has not been charged with a crime, was 7 when he and an 8-year-old boy became the youngest people ever charged with murder in the 1998 killing of Ryan Harris, an 11-year-old girl found raped and suffocated in the Englewood neighborhood.

The boys were exonerated one month later when sperm found at the scene ruled out boys so young. Outrage over the crime and the accusations roiled Chicago and rippled across the nation.

Calumet Park Police Cmdr. Mel Davis said the 15-year-old and his 18-year-old half brother were caught on surveillance videotape shooting two Chicago men Wednesday who were sitting in a parked car at a gas station.

One victim, who was critically injured, remained on a ventilator yesterday, Davis said. The other victim, who was shot in the leg, has been treated and released. Davis described both victims as being in their late teens.

Davis would not say where the suspects were arrested, but he said that Calumet Park police brought them in for questioning about 2 a.m. Thursday; the 15-year-old was questioned for about two hours with his mother present. As of yesterday afternoon, he had made no statements of guilt, Davis said.

The 15-year-old was being held at the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, while his half-brother, who also has not been charged, was in custody in Calumet Park.

Davis said the teens knew the victims. "The whole case seems to revolve around something that happened several years ago in Chicago with a female," he said.

The 15-year-old's exoneration in the Ryan Harris murder eight years ago was the beginning of a series of encounters with the legal system. In 1999, a civil suit was filed on his behalf against the city, and litigation dragged on for five years.

Family members sought psychological help for the boy and themselves, and the boy underwent treatment for separation anxiety disorder, depression, sleep difficulties, self-hatred and overdependency on his parents, according to the lawsuit.

In 2004, the boy's family settled with the city for $2 million, but not before the teen, then 14, ran into new trouble when he was charged as a juvenile in the accidental shooting of a 15-year-old friend. He was placed on electronic home monitoring in September 2004.

The family of the other boy exonerated in the Ryan Harris case also sued, and that civil case went to trial in 2005 before the parties reached a $6.2 million settlement. Floyd Durr, a 37-year-old convicted sex offender, pleaded guilty to Harris' murder this year and was sentenced to life in prison.

After the 15-year-old's case against the city was settled, his mother said that the family considered moving to the South to be closer to relatives and that he still lived with the trauma of being accused of murder.

"Authority figures make him nervous," she said in a 2004 interview. "He's like a nervous little kid all the time, like, `What's going to happen to me next?'"

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