innocence blog

A Web log for the Innocence Institute of Point Park University

Monday, June 12, 2006

Retrial for Julie Rea-Harper

This article originally ran in the Belleville News Democrat:

CARLYLE - A little county is getting a big trial that has attracted the attention of local and national media.

Julie Rea-Harper, accused of first-degree murder of her 10-year-old son, was moved earlier this month from Lawrence County in eastern Illinois to the Clinton County Courthouse in Carlyle.

"The trial will last about three weeks, including jury selection, and will begin July 11," said Hamilton County Circuit Judge Barry Vaughan, who will preside.

Nearly two years ago, Rea-Harper won a new trial after the 5th District Appellate Court in Mount Vernon ruled she didn't get a fair trial when a Wayne County jury found her guilty of murdering her son, Joel Kirkpatrick, as he slept in his bed in Rea-Harper's Lawrenceville home.
Rea-Harper received a 65-year prison sentence.

"It should be quite a trial," said Clinton County Sheriff Mike Kreke.

But spectators need to get in line for a seat early.

There are about 70 seats in the courtroom's gallery, Kreke said, and seats will be given on a first-come, first-serve basis.

"Right now, we have no plan for an overflow area or a closed-circuit telecast of the trial," Vaughan said. "We may revisit that, if it becomes necessary."

The Clinton County Jail will also be the site of a staging area for the media, Kreke said.
ABC's news show "20/20" covered Rea-Harper's case, as well as Springfield and Chicago newspapers. Northwestern University's Center for Wrongful Convictions and the Downstate Innocence Project worked on Harper's appeal.

Rea-Harper, 37, is free on bond.

Prosecutors maintain that Rea-Harper stabbed her only child, Joel, in 1997 after losing custody of him to her former husband.

Rea-Harper told police she fought with a masked intruder who attacked Joel, but got away.
Serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells later confessed to killing Joel in interviews with the author of a 2002 book and later Illinois police.

Sells is on Texas death row for murdering a 13-year-old girl.

Vaughan ruled Sells' statements can be used during Rea-Harper's new trial.
Contact reporter Beth Hundsdorfer at or 239-2570.


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