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Old 04-07-2006, 01:01 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Victim's mother tries to block plea deal

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Ryan Harris' mother tries to block alleged plea deal

By Carlos Sadovi
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 7, 2006, 12:58 PM CDT


A Cook County judge said today he will decide if the mother of slain 11-year-old Ryan Harris has the right to oppose a plea deal that would spare the girl's accused killer the death penalty.

Sabrina Harris said prosecutors told her about a deal in which Floyd Durr, 37, would receive a sentence of natural life in prison in exchange for a guilty plea.

Her attorney, Steven Decker, asked Cook County Judge Stanley Sacks for a special prosecutor to take over the case. If Sacks grants the motion, it would negate the plea deal worked out between Durr's lawyers and the state's attorney's office.

Sacks said he would review the matter over the weekend and decide if Decker has the right to intervene. The attorney argued that state law allows Sabrina Harris to be represented by her own legal consul as a crime victim.

"It's nearly eight years since the homicide of Ryan Harris…another day or two is not going to change a thing," Sacks said.

Sources have told the Tribune that in recent IQ exams, Durr scored a 68 and a 59, making him ineligible to face the death penalty.

Speaking to reporters after today's court hearing, Sabrina Harris called it a "luxury" for Durr to spend the rest of his life in prison.

"I want justice for my daughter,'' she said. "He killed my daughter, so I want him to pay for it."

Decker said that Durr "killed her daughter, and he stood silently by and would have been happy to have effectively killed a 7- and 8-year old boy also. He would have been happy to have had them accept responsibility for his actions."

The lawyer referred to the two boys initially charged with Ryan Harris' killing.

The girl disappeared July 27, 1998, and her body was found the next day in a vacant lot in Englewood on the city's South Side. She had been sexually molested and beaten. The arrest of the two boys, then 7 and 8, drew national headlines, as they were the youngest children in the country ever charged with murder.

Both were exonerated when DNA testing found semen on the girl's underwear that could not have come from boys so young. Their families went on to win a total of $8.2 million from the City of Chicago to settle wrongful arrest lawsuits.

DNA tests later led prosecutors to charge Durr. A convicted pedophile, the suspect currently is serving a 125-year sentence on other rape convictions.

Earlier this year, lawyers for Durr sought to have him declared mentally retarded to spare him from the death penalty if he were to be convicted in Harris' slaying. They said doctors had determined Durr's IQ was between 59 and 65.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that people with IQs below 70 are ineligible for the death penalty. In Illinois, a person must have an IQ of at least 75 to be eligible for the death penalty.

WGN-Ch. 9 and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

OK, leaving aside the possibility that the defendant may or may not be mentally challenged, I think that it's amazing that the judge is even considering this possibility. From what I surmise, the mother is trying to hire her own prosecutor (at state expense) to go after this guy. Here in Chicago, this story has been big news for years, and from what I understand from folks in the "know" (cops and prosecutors not directly involved), they've got the right guy and have all the evidence they need to prove it. Given the guy's past history, it's not something that hard to imagine, unfortunately.

Having had a close friend go through a death penalty case sitting in the victim's seat in the last 6 months, I can understand that the mother is angry and wants justice, but does anyone know if there's any prescident for this kind of prosecutor switch?
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Old 04-07-2006, 01:10 PM   #2 (permalink)
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I'm not sure about the prosecutor switch, but I do find that pretty odd. Especially when the current prosecutor knows all the details of said trial. It would seem that would be the one to stick with.

I do know that alot of times the prosecutors will take in account the victims family's rights and concerns before offering a plea deal. Perhaps this prosecutor just didn't bother to ask that's why she's so upset?
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