Jan. 10, 2008
Former inmate to get millions
Delco will settle a lawsuit by Nicholas Yarris, on death row for
years before being cleared of murder.
By Emilie Lounsberry
Inquirer Staff Writer
A former death-row inmate who spent 22 years in prison before long-
sought DNA tests exonerated him of a 1981 murder and rape has reached
a multimillion- dollar settlement with , where he was
Nicholas Yarris spent 8,057 days awaiting execution before he was
released four years ago this month. He was the first from
' s death row to be cleared by DNA tests.
"For the first time in my life, since 1981, I am finally free," said
Yarris, now 46, in a telephone interview yesterday from England,
where he now lives.
Yarris said he would treat his parents - Mike and Jayne Yarris of
Southwest Philadelphia - to a vacation, but reserve the
rest of the money for his daughter, Lara Rebecca, who is 21 months old.
"All I am doing with the money is securing my daughter's future,"
said Yarris, who said he celebrated the settlement in a very low-key
manner - with a heaping bowl of .
Neither Yarris nor his lawyer, John W. Beavers, would disclose the
amount of the settlement, though both said it was substantial.
The settlement was the result of a malicious-prosecuti on lawsuit
Yarris filed in 2004 against Delaware County and the law enforcement
officials who investigated and prosecuted him, and it came as the
case was moving closer to trial in U.S. District Court.
Beavers said county representatives agreed to inform the family of
murder victim Linda Mae Craig that "no probable cause existed to
believe Nick Yarris had anything to do with her death."
For Yarris, the settlement brings to an end more than a quarter-
century of dealings with the legal system - starting with his 1982
trial, then through all of the years of appeals until his release,
finally ending with the settlement of the civil case.
"It was very, very difficult, but now it seems like it all came full
circle - all because I stayed positive," said Yarris, who has written
a book, Seven Days to Live My Life, that will be published in July,
and is working on a movie deal.
Some of those involved in the 1982 prosecution said yesterday that
they were not happy about the settlement.
"The settlement in this case was made, over my strenuous objection,
by the insurance carrier without the consent or approval of those who
prosecuted this case," said lawyer Dennis McAndrews, who as an
assistant district attorney helped prosecute Yarris.
"We believe that a civil jury should have decided this lawsuit."
McAndrews said that the county's insurance carrier "made a business
decision" to settle, and that the evidence introduced at Yarris'
trial supported the conviction. In his view, McAndrews said, the DNA
evidence "does not exonerate" Yarris at all.
Yarris was convicted by a Delaware County jury in 1982 of the
kidnapping, murder and rape of Craig, of Boothwyn, who was abducted
as she was leaving her job at the Tri-State Mall in .,
in December 1981.
Craig, 32 and a mother of three, was reported missing by her husband
early on the night of Dec. 15, 1981. Her bloody automobile was found
that night in , and her body was discovered later in a
snow-covered parking lot about a mile away in Upper Chichester.
Yarris drew attention to himself in the case. In January 1982, he was
in Delaware County Prison on unrelated charges and claimed to have
information about the murder. He later said that he knew nothing
about the killing except what he had read in a newspaper, and that he
had been undergoing drug withdrawal and was doing whatever he could
to be released or get better treatment in prison.
During the trial, the prosecution showed that Yarris had the same B-
positive blood type as the murderer, and introduced witnesses - a
prison guard and an inmate - who testified that he made incriminating
statements to them while behind bars.
From death row, he spent most of his time trying to use the evolving
science of DNA testing to prove his innocence. His conviction
ultimately was overturned in 2003.
After his release in 2004, Yarris filed the lawsuit, seeking $22
million. He contended that officials in the District
Attorney's Office withheld key evidence during the trial and later
sought to sabotage his bid for DNA testing.
The suit contended that a pair of men's gloves found in Craig's car
was withheld from his defense team, even though the prosecution
believed they belonged to the murderer.
When the gloves were finally analyzed, the tests found nothing that
matched Yarris' DNA. In addition, DNA evidence recovered from Craig's
body also showed that Yarris was not the rapist or killer.
Yarris said that as horrible as those 22 years on death row were, he
was not bitter, and that his life had turned around in many wonderful
and remarkable ways. He moved to England after his release, got
married, and is now a stay-at-home dad for his daughter.
But in the months after his release, he struggled. He said that when
he emerged from prison, he felt as though he had been in a "time
warp" and seemed very much like the 20-year-old he was when he entered.
Yesterday, he said that he had just finished his book shortly before
when he got an e-mail from Craig's son, Art. In it, Yarris
recalled, Art Craig wrote that "time is the most precious thing" and
wished him well. (Craig could not be reached for comment.) Yarris
said he took the e-mail as an acknowledgment that Craig realized he
was not involved in his mother's death.
At that moment, Yarris said, he decided it was time to settle the
Contact staff writer Emilie Lounsberry at
orelounsberry@ phillynews. com.
Inquirer staff writers Lini S. Kadaba and Mari A. Schaefer
contributed to this article.
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