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Murder charges dropped against Chicago boys, ages 7 and 8

Boys sketch
Murder charges have been dropped against two boys  

Tests point to older perpetrator in young girl's death

September 4, 1998
Web posted at: 10:34 p.m. EDT (0234 GMT)

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Prosecutors dropped charges Friday against two young boys charged with molesting and murdering an 11-year-old girl, after forensic tests pointed to an older perpetrator.

The tests detected semen on the panties of the victim, Ryan Harris. Medical experts advised prosecutors that it was unlikely that the boys -- one age 7 and the other age 8 -- were old enough to produce semen.

Police had questioned the boys after Harris' body was found, and they confessed to her slaying. But many in the South Side neighborhood where the boys lived had been skeptical that they had actually killed her.

After the charges were dropped, attorneys for the boys demanded an apology from police and prosecutors, charging that the police investigation had been sloppy and that race played a role in the decision to bring charges. Both boys are black, as was the victim.

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"There was a rush to judgment in this case to the extreme detriment of two young, innocent babies ... to their families and to this community," said R. Eugene Pincham, an attorney for the 8-year-old.

"I think everyone owes our client an apology," said Elizabeth Tarzia, who represents the 7-year-old. "This is a terrible thing to do to little children."

But Chicago Police Superintendent Terry Hillard defended the investigation, saying detectives "behaved in a professional manner, complying with the letter and the spirit of the law." He said investigators had simply been following up on the fact that the boys knew details about the case that "no one else knew."

"There has been no, I repeat no, misconduct on the part of any member of the Chicago Police Department," he said. "The police department must be concerned with the facts."

Covered boys
The boys walk away with jackets over their heads after the charges were dropped  

And Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine emphasized that the case is still open, and he refused to declare the boys innocent of the crime.

"I think we have been sensitive," Devine said. "We were all in new territory here with young people in these tender years."

Harris was reported missing July 27, and her body was found the next day in a weed patch in the boys' neighborhood. She had been struck in the head, sexually molested and suffocated. Her panties were stuffed in her mouth, and grass and leaves were found in her nostrils.

Because of the boys' ages, the case had received widespread publicity. They were believed to be perhaps the youngest people ever charged with murder in Chicago.

Correspondent Patty Davis contributed to this report.

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