January 24, 1998
DA clears man convicted by police lies
Defendant may file suit over jail time
Mitchell Zuckoff, Globe Staff
The slate has been wiped clean for Christopher Harding, a Roxbury man who
was convicted of attempted murder based on falsehoods by Boston police.
One month after a judge threw out Harding's conviction and ordered a new
trial, Suffolk County prosecutors said yesterday they would not try him a
second time. The move not only wipes out the charges, it also clears the
way for a civil suit to compensate Harding for the more than six years he
spent in prison Harding, who finished his prison term in 1995, was stunned
when told of the action by the office of Suffolk District Attorney Ralph
C. Martin II. "I'm clean? . . . I'm free? You mean, this makes it like it
never happened? Oh, yes, that's good news, very, very good news."
Harding was convicted in 1990 of attempting to murder a police officer,
but the case was flawed from the start.
Last month, the Globe Spotlight Team detailed how the chief prosecution
witness against Harding, Officer Terence O'Neil, changed his story under
oath, gave faulty grand jury testimony, and violated a judge's order about
speaking to other witnesses.
The Globe story also showed how a grand jury report contradicted O'Neil's
testimony, and detailed new evidence that pointed to another man as the
Two weeks later, Superior Court Judge Vieri Volterra ordered a new trial
for Harding, based in part on "serious questions about the veracity" of
testimony by police officers. He also cited lies by police about why
O'Neil's partner could not attend the trial; her testimony likely would
have helped to prove Harding's innocence. The judge called those lies "a
fraud upon the court" that themselves justified a new trial.
In the court filing yesterday, Martin said his office "determined that the
interests of justice would not be served by further prosecution." The
filing said Martin's office made the decision after prosecutors
"thoroughly reviewed the facts and information presently known concerning
the events surrounding these indictments, as well as some of the issues
raised . . . [by] Justice Volterra."
The decision also was signed by Leslie O'Brien, the assistant district
attorney who prosecuted Harding. Last month, O'Brien acknowledged "serious
concerns regarding the justice of Mr. Harding's conviction."
Neither Martin nor police officials would comment about the filing.
Harding's lawyer, Robert S. Sinsheimer of Boston, praised the decision by
Martin's office but said the case was far from over.
"Christopher Harding's search for justice is just beginning," said
Sinsheimer, who learned of the decision while in London. He said he and
his co-counsel, Larry Rizman, "are going to leave no stone unturned to
ensure that not only appropriate reparations are made to Mr. Harding."
Sinsheimer declined to say how much money a civil suit would seek in
damages, but added: "Mr. Harding has lost everything. The value of freedom
is impossible to quantify."
Harding, 45, was a longshoreman and laborer when he was arrested in August
1989 in the stairwell of a Mission Hill housing project building where he
had grown up. Harding said he had been sleeping in the stairwell for more
than five hours.
Police said he was hiding in the stairwell after shooting one man in the
chest and then firing at Officer O'Neil. The wounded man survived; O'Neil
was not injured.
A federal investigation last year into gang activity in Roxbury supported
Harding's claim of innocence, turning up evidence that the gunman was
reputed drug dealer Robert Owens. Owens was indicted on an array of
federal charges, which did not include the shooting Harding was arrested
"When I first got out, I never thought it would go this far, that I'd get
my name cleared," Harding said yesterday. "This is cause for celebration.
I'm going to tell the world I was right. That'll be my celebration