Nightly News | November 04, 2011
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: In Illinois tonight, two men are free after spending almost two decades behind bars for a crime they did not commit, and a third is due to be released soon. Their lawyers say DNA proved their innocence, but not before they lost family, friends, and the dreams of a bright future that other kids are allowed to have. The story tonight from our justice correspondent, Pete Williams .
PETE WILLIAMS reporting: First it was Robert Taylor walking out of an Illinois state prison and greeted by his father.
Taylor's Father: I said I was going to be here if I had to drive.
P. WILLIAMS: It came 19 years after he was arrested for a brutal crime that prosecutors now concede he did not commit.
Mr. ROBERT TAYLOR: With a family like mine, they refused to allow me to give up. They never taught me how.
Taylor's Father: That wasn't going to happen.
Mr. TAYLOR: Them not teaching me how to give up, it's impossible.
Taylor's Father: I'm a fighter, he a fighter.
P. WILLIAMS: Then another man convicted of the same crime, James Harden , released this afternoon.
Mr. JAMES HARDEN: Because I want to drive a truck. I'm going to do a little traveling. I've been sitting for almost 20 years, so let me move.
P. WILLIAMS: His brother, Jonathan Barr , was to be freed as well. Now in their mid-thirties, they were teenagers when they were arrested in 1991 and accused of raping and murdering a 14-year-old girl near an interstate highway in a Southside Chicago suburb, even though none of their DNA matched evidence from the crime scene . The case began to collapse earlier this year, when a judge agreed to have crime scene DNA retested. It turned out to match the DNA of a convicted rapist, a man who was 33 at the time of the murder and lived about a mile from where the body was found. He's now in jail on other charges. While Harden and Barr were in prison, both their parents died, and they missed out on high school and any chance at college.
Mr. PETER NEUFELD ("The Innocence Project"): They lose the best years of their lives. Meanwhile, you know, the real perpetrator, who was a convicted robber, a convicted rapist, is at liberty out there committing more serious violent crimes.
P. WILLIAMS: Defense lawyers say about one fourth of defendants who are wrongly convicted gave false confessions, and that teenagers are easily pressured into signing something to make the interrogations stop. Now free, the men say they'll try to make a fresh start, after wrongful convictions took away nearly 20 years of their lives. Pete Williams , NBC News, Washington.