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Ill. Appeals Court Orders Mother Freed

July 8, 2004

CARBONDALE, Ill. (AP) _ An appeals court has ordered the immediate release of a woman whose conviction in the killing of her 10-year-old son was dismissed last month.

A mandate for the release of Julie Rea-Harper was mailed Wednesday to the Dwight Correctional Center, a representative of the 5th District Court of Appeals clerk’s office said. A Dwight spokeswoman would not say Thursday morning whether Rea-Harper was still there.

Rea-Harper was convicted in 2002 of killing her son, 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick, as he slept in his bed. She was sentenced to 65 years in prison.

The appeals court dismissed her conviction on June 24 and ordered a new trial.

Lawrence County State’s Attorney Todd Reitz, who will decide whether to retry Harper, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The justices said they didn’t consider the confession to Joel’s killing by Texas serial killer Tommy Lynn Sells. That confession, in a book released in 2002, was called bogus by prosecutors.

Instead, the appellate justices said the trial judge shouldn’t have allowed special prosecutor Ed Parkinson to try the case over defense objections. Parkinson, of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor’s Office, had not been sworn in as an assistant state’s attorney, and state law at the time didn’t allow the agency to assist with murder trials.

Police say Rea-Harper savagely stabbed her only child as he slept in her home. She had recently lost custody of him to her former husband.

Harper told police she wrestled with a masked intruder who attacked her son. Prosecutors told the jury there were no signs of a struggle or that anyone had entered the house.

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