- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 11, 2004

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Texas officials freed a man who spent 12 years in prison after he was wrongfully convicted of molesting a 3-year-old girl.

John Michael Harvey, 40, was released Friday after the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled 5-4 on Wednesday there was not enough evidence to convict him after his reported victim recanted more than a decade after he was jailed. Prosecutors have said they do not plan to seek a new trial.

“In order for the next several years not to be contaminated and ruined, I need to put closure on it and try not to feel sorry for myself,” Mr. Harvey said.

He missed a lot during 12 years behind bars, including marrying his girlfriend and spending time with his parents, none of whom doubted his innocence.

Mr. Harvey’s relationship with his fiancee fell apart after he was sentenced to 40 years in prison in 1992. After draining most of their life savings to defend him, his father died in 2000 and his mother passed away two years later.

Mr. Harvey’s nightmare started in 1989, when he returned from a trip and learned police had searched his Bedford apartment. When he went to find out why, authorities arrested him for sexual assault of a child.

He said he was offered a plea deal, but did not want to admit to something he did not do. “If you’re guilty, you’re worried. Being innocent, I wasn’t concerned,” Mr. Harvey said.

After the shock of his conviction wore off, Mr. Harvey sank into a depression and lost 30 pounds. Over the years several appeals were denied.

A few years ago, the alleged victim found out Mr. Harvey was in prison. She had been too traumatized from testifying as a child to realize what had happened.

The teenager told a relative she had been coerced into lying to authorities. With renewed hope that Mr. Harvey could be cleared, his Houston attorney, Sean Buckley, presented the new evidence at a March hearing in Fort Worth, where the girl denied that Mr. Harvey molested her. The girl’s brother testified that he remembered the girl being coached by a relative who had a long-standing grudge against Mr. Harvey.

Now that he is free, Mr. Harvey said he plans to spend the holidays with relatives in Houston before moving to Florida and finishing a book about his ordeal.

“They (prosecutors) destroyed my home here,” he said. “I loved living here, but there are too many memories.”

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