Almost 40 years after a murder in a South Florida park, prosecutors said Thursday the wrong man was convicted.
A confession letter and DNA testing revealed Jack Jones, not serial rapist Ronald Stewart, killed 20-year-old college student Regina Harrison in 1983.
Stewart pleaded no-contest to second-degree murder, however, and never disputed that he killed Harrison before he died in prison in 2008 from cancer. But prosecutors say the rape sentences — all backed up by evidence — would not have allowed him to walk free before he died.
Arkansas executed the man who prosecutors say killed Harrison in 2017 for a woman’s 1995 rape and murder. Jones confessed he killed Harrison in a letter to his sister that he told her to open a year after his death. Jones requested she give the letter to a detective who investigated a murder he committed in 1991.
After the sister forwarded the letter last year and DNA testing confirmed it, the Broward County state attorney’s office on Thursday asked a judge to throw out Stewart’s murder conviction.
“If this did not involve my family personally, this would be a fascinating episode of ‘CSI,’” said the victim’s brother, Richard Harrison. “But it doesn’t make Stewart any less evil and it certainly doesn’t make him any less dead. And Jones has already been executed … and we can only execute people once.”
Harrison said the revelation stunned him and his parents. They believed Stewart raped and strangled Regina, whom her brother described as kind and deeply religious. She attended Palm Beach Atlantic College, a Christian school in West Palm Beach, and Harrison said she would have found a job helping people.
“She was a really sweet kid,” he said.
Regina Harrison never returned from a dinnertime bike ride on May 2, 1983. A witness told detectives she rode on a path along Hollywood Beach with a skinny, long-haired man on a black bike. Her body was found the next day in a nearby park.
Authorities arrested Stewart five months later and the witness who had seen Harrison at the beach picked Stewart out of a photo lineup.
“The Broward State Attorney’s Office and Hollywood Police Department regret the roles our agencies played in Stewart’s conviction,” the agencies said in a statement. “Although Stewart is now deceased, it is appropriate that the record be corrected.”
In his confession letter, Jones wrote that Harrison’s ghost haunted him for three years. He confessed to two murdering two other women, also raping and strangling them, but not Harrison.
“She forgave me. I never forgave myself,” he wrote. He said he wanted the Harrison family to know “I am deeply sorry, that I couldn’t rest easy until they knew.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
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