On the morning of November 21, 1996, the bodies of 78-year-old Archie Harris and his 35-year-old home healthcare aide, Betty Ramcharan, were discovered in Harris’s home in Eastchester, New York, both severely beaten and stabbed to death.
Besides having recovered a bloody knife, police had few other clues. The medical examiner believed the murders occurred between November 19 and November 21 when the bodies were found. Harris was wealthy and known to talk about keeping large amounts of cash in his house. Although numerous suspects were investigated, no arrests were made and the case went cold.
Nearly five years later, on February 15, 2001, police arrested 36-year-old Selwyn Days in Mt. Vernon, New York for violating an order of protection obtained by his ex-girlfriend, Cherlyn Mayhew. While Days was in custody, Mayhew called police anonymously and said Days was responsible for two murders years earlier in Eastchester. The murders of Harris and Ramcharan were the only unsolved murders in Eastchester.
After receiving this call, police questioned Days from at least 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. that day. A highly suggestible man with a low IQ and a history of mental illness that included psychotic episodes, during that time, Days said nothing to implicate himself in the murders.
After a break, questioning resumed. Police started videotaping the interrogation at 1:42 a.m., after which, according to detectives, Days started making admissions about the murders. The tape showed an exhausted Days answering leading questions from three different detectives, all having detailed knowledge of the crime. An analysis of the confession would later show that the detectives already knew all relevant crime facts in Days’s confession, whereas whatever Days offered spontaneously that police did not already know could not be corroborated.
Days also provided demonstrably false facts about the crime, including confabulated events that occurred in his life years before the murders. At the time, Days was taking Haldol, an anti-psychotic drug. Almost immediately afterward, Days recanted and said he had nothing to do with the murders.
Days was charged with two counts of second-degree murder and possession of a weapon. His motive, according to police was that four months earlier, in July 1996, his mother had accused Harris, a man known for a bad temper and abusing his aides, of sexually molesting her while she was working as his home health aide. During the interrogation, police had suggested to Days that the assault on his mother was a justifiable reason for murder.
Days went to trial in Westchester County Court in November 2003. The prosecution’s case relied principally on his confession, testimony from Mayhew, and evidence of his mother’s prior accusation that Harris sexually molested her.
Mayhew testified that she was with Days on one occasion when someone bumped into him. She told the jury that Days said, “This guy don’t know who (he) messing with. You know I will kill him because I did it before and I got away with it.” Mayhew also testified that in November 2000, he told her he had gotten away with killing the “old man” and “the lady” and that he had “beat the old man” and that “the lady was screaming and…he stabbed them.” She said that Days told her that “the man raped his mother and that nobody is going to do anything to his mother.”
On December 17, 2003, a mistrial was declared when the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Days went to trial a second time and on April 16, 2004, he was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 50 years to life in prison
In 2007, a motion was filed seeking a new trial on the ground that Days’s trial defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to investigate an alibi that Days was in North Carolina at the time of the crime
Glenn Garber and Rebecca Freedman of the nonprofit Exoneration Initiative, a non-DNA New York-based innocence organization, and Roberto Finzi, of the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison represented Days without charge. The court held a hearing on the motion in 2009.
Witnesses testified that Days was in Goldsboro, North Carolina at the time of the crime. Remona McIver, a magistrate for 22 years; Perry Sharp, a retired police captain; and Donald Evans, a restaurant owner, testified that they saw Days in Goldsboro, 533 miles from New York, when Harris and Ramcharan were killed.
In December 2009, Days was granted a new trial based on the failure of his lawyer to call the alibi witnesses. By that time, new testing on the knife detected DNA evidence from two unidentified individuals and excluded Days.
Before the third trial, after hearing the alibi testimony, the prosecution amended the charges to say that the victims had been killed as early as November 18, 1996 — a day before the witnesses saw Days in North Carolina. Days went to trial a third time in early 2011. This trial ended again in a mistral when the jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
Days was convicted at a fourth trial on October 26, 2011. He was again sentenced to 50 years to life in prison.
In September 2015, the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The court held that the trial judge in the fourth trial had erroneously barred the defense from calling an expert witness to testify about false confessions.
The court also criticized the prosecution for arguing at the fourth trial (for the first time, after 10 years and three trials) that the murders could have occurred as early as November 18, 1996, because they knew defense would be unable to provide an alibi for that time.
In August 2017, Days went to trial for a fifth time. This time the defence was finally permitted to present a false confession defence expert. Dr. Richard Leo, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law and a leading false confession expert, testified that Day’s lengthy interrogation was marked by leading questions from the detectives. The grueling hours of interrogation coupled with Days’s mental limitations, he testified, created “a heightened risk” of a false confession.
Defense also called Dr. Jessica Pearson, a psychologist, who testified that there were several factors predisposing Days to making a false confession:a low IQ, a history of mental illness, the medication he was taking, the leading questions, the hours of interrogation during normal sleeping hours, and that he was a highly suggestible person. Pearson said that Days accepted and agreed to what detectives told him about having committed the murders.
After a day of deliberations, on September 12, 2017, the jury acquitted Days and he was released.
By Hülya Genç