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‘I Trusted the Wrong People’: Ex-informant Says He Was Helping Chicago Cops Solve a Murder Before They Pinned the Crime on Him. He Served 31 Years for Killing Someone He Allegedly Never Met.

A Chicago man who proclaimed his innocence ever since being convicted of a murder more than 30 years ago was finally released from prison on March 16 after a judge vacated his 90-year sentence and prosecutors admitted they didn’t have enough evidence to retry him.

Lee Harris spent more than three decades behind bars for the 1989 murder of Dana Feitler. According to WGN 9 News, prosecutors said that there wasn’t enough evidence to retry the case after his 1992 conviction.

Lee Harris (middle) pictured with his son, Jermaine Harris (left), and attorney(right) at his press conference after he was released from prison. (Photo: Screenshot from Chicago’s ABC 7 News Youtube channel)

“I got 90 years for killing somebody I have never seen, somebody I never seen a day in my life,” Harris said to WGN 9 News.

Harris was accused of grabbing Feitler and forcing her to take $400 out of an ATM machine before he allegedly shot her in the back of the head in a dark alley. She was a 24-year-old college student at the time of her death, and it was reported by her family she had a promising future. The pressure was put on local detectives to solve the case because she was abducted “amongst the mansions of one of Chicago’s toniest neighborhoods” known as the Gold Coast, according to WGN 9 News.

Richard Zuley, a Chicago detective, was a part of the team tasked to solve the case. The early theory was that three African-American men initially did the murder.

The detective turned to Harris, who was an informant at the time, to help solve the case.

“They would say, ‘Lee, listen, we’ve got to solve this,'” Harris said. “They’d say ‘Listen, if you can help us, it’s worth $20,000, and I’ll make sure you get it.’ Again, I’m talking to my friends. There’s no reason not to believe them.”

Harris mentioned how he and the officers would go out for drinks, and they even attended his wedding. He also stated that the detectives gave him information, then put it in reports that were used to later convict him for the murder.

According to reports, Harris was a cooperating witness for months. The police took advantage of him when he fell on hard times. It was reported that they paid for meals and housing and provided him with around-the-clock police protection before they turned on him.

According to WGN 9 News, there were inconsistencies in other parts of the investigation, and three other suspects were rejected by the district attorney’s office. Harris’ attorney said that’s when the attention turned to Harris.

Robert Chattler was Harris’s cellmate from 2000 to 2001. After he was released from prison, he started a GoFundMe for his friend to hire a lawyer to take a look at his case again. He also started an online petition that garnered 66,000 signatures for the Cook County District Attorney’s office to take a look into Harris’ case again.

Mark Suppelsa, a WGN 9 News reporter, shared Harris’ story six years ago and did his own investigation into the murder. He walked the route detectives claimed Harris used the night of the murder and said it took two minutes. He stated in his report that it didn’t match the police’s timeline in their report.

Suppelsa said he asked Zuley for comment back in 2017, and he didn’t respond. It also was reported that the detective was a key investigator in a 1990 murder that resulted in an overturned conviction. He also has a history of coercing confessions out of potential suspects using torture methods. He is noted for crafting the interrogation plan for Mohamedou Slahi at Guantanamo Bay. It was turned into a two-part series by Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian newspaper in 2015.

Zuley is now retired, and he again refused to respond to WGN 9 News request for comment after Harris was released.

“I’ve been unjustly convicted of a crime I had no part in,” Harris said to WGN 9 News in 2017. “I trusted the wrong people, and that’s what got me a 90-year prison sentence.”

Following his release on Thursday, Harris was joined by his attorneys, his son, and two of his best friends. Jermaine Harris stated that he was 7 years old when his dad first went into prison, but they always kept a good relationship.

“He was always there. He couldn’t be physically there, but he knew what I did in football. He had his friends come and visit me,” Jermaine Harris said.

The family of the Feitler released the following statement on Thursday evening that read in part:

“Thirty-four years ago, our daughter and sister Dana Feitler, a kind, hard-working and talented 24-year-old Chicagoan was randomly abducted from the lobby of her home and murdered. Not a day has gone by where the memory of Dana has not been present in our family’s lives. Since Dana’s death, more than 25,000 Chicagoans have been murdered, with 695 lives lost last year alone. At moments when the rights of victims are often forgotten, we stand with the tens of thousands of victims who have lost their lives and with the tens and tens of thousands of family members and friends of the victims who bear the sorrow of their deaths. We will not forget and will continue to work to make our streets safe for law-abiding citizens.”

“I really feel bad for the Feitler family, really, I do,” Harris said Thursday. “Because for 33 years they have lied to them and told them they had a person who committed that crime and all the time, they knew they didn’t. My heart goes out to them.”

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