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Durham justice 

"This entire experience has opened my eyes up to a tragic world of injustice I never knew existed. If police officers and a district attorney can systematically railroad us with absolutely no evidence whatsoever, I can't imagine what they'd do to people who do not have the resources to defend themselves." —Reade Seligmann, former Duke lacrosse player, after sexual assault and kidnapping charges against him were dropped

Reade Seligmann, meet Erick Daniels. He's what happens to people without money when they're railroaded by Durham police and the Durham district attorney's office.

Daniels was a 14-year-old Chewning Middle School student when two armed men wearing bandanas broke into the home of Ruth Brown and stole thousands of dollars she said was in her purse. There was no physical evidence linking Daniels (or anyone else) to the crime, and Brown identified Daniels as one of her assailants after picking his picture out of a Chewning yearbook. She said she recognized his eyebrows.

That's it. That's all the "evidence" there was connecting Erick Daniels to the robbery. As a result, a 15-year-old boy was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But the miscarriage of justice goes much deeper than that.

As Mosi Secret found in a six-month investigation, problems with Daniels' case abound. The flaws and failures bear striking similarities to the ones that made the Duke lacrosse case—and Durham—symbols of a justice system run amok. They include:

An unreliable victim/witness: An investigation by one of Daniels' appeals lawyers found that Brown—a Durham police department employee—was actually running an illegal poker game at the time of the robbery.

Suspect didn't match the victim's description: Brown originally said her assailant was light-skinned with braids. Daniels is dark-skinned and has hair too short to braid.

Conflicting police reports: While the investigating officer's written notes say an "Eric" was named within a few days after the crime, her later typewritten notes say she learned the name more than a week later, meaning Daniels' identity could have been made known to Brown before she ID'd his yearbook picture.

No further investigation: Police found pictures of a second suspect posing with guns next to a man who fit Brown's description of one of her assailants. And the prosecutor received word after Daniels' conviction that a man was ready to confess, but didn't pursue it.

And that's where money comes in. Daniels couldn't afford an all-star defense team. Inexplicably, his attorney asked Daniels at trial about his juvenile record—minor stuff, but opening it up for the prosecution to exploit. After convicting Daniels, the jury members expressed fear for their lives.

If he'd had the Duke lacrosse lawyers digging out the truth, Erick Daniels wouldn't have spent the last 5 1/2 years in prison and, like Reade Seligmann, would be free today. Without them, he became just another symbol of Durham justice.

More by Richard Hart

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