CINCINNATI (CN) – The 6th Circuit has revived the claims of an Ohio man whose murder conviction was reversed after he spent two years in jail on the charge that he stabbed a 5-year-old girl to death when he was 12.
On June 28, 1998, young Devan Duniver’s body was found in a wooded area near her home in New Philadelphia, Ohio. She had been stabbed seven times in the neck.
The police worked their way down a list of suspects, including Devan’s suicidal mom, her violent alcoholic father, her mother’s drug-addicted boyfriend, a brother who had stabbed a cat, and the family’s 12-year-old neighbor, Anthony Harris.
Though Harris had no criminal record, he had pushed Devan and threatened to kill her, and was seen near the wooded area where Devan’s body was found. On the day after Devan’s disappearance, he told police that Devan was a “rude, nasty little girl who would eat in front of him.”
Under persistent questioning at the police station, Harris confessed to having killed Devan. Though much of his confession – which was later recanted – conflicted with the facts of the murder, Harris was arrested, tried in a juvenile court and convicted of Devan’s murder. He was sentenced to prison until he turned 21.
But the Ohio Court of Appeals overturned his conviction in 2000, and Harris was released the next day. He filed a lawsuit accusing Tuscarawas County and Chief Prosecutor Amanda Spies of malicious prosecution and defamation. He also claimed Spies had convinced the Marine Corp. to reject his enlistment.
The appeals court ruled that Spies was not entitled to qualified immunity from the lawsuit, because she lacked probable cause to arrest Harris. Judge Moore characterized the evidence against him as stemming from an “isolated squabble between neighbor children who often played together.” See ruling.