Woman Cleared in Retrial of Son's Death

The Associated Press
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; 9:46 PM

CARLYLE, Ill. -- A woman who spent about two years in prison for the stabbing death of her 10-year-old son was acquitted at her retrial Wednesday, after the defense insisted the murder was carried out by a masked intruder, possibly a Texas death-row inmate who has confessed.

Julie Rea-Harper stood as the verdict was read then collapsed and began sobbing after she was cleared of two counts of first-degree murder in Joel Kirkpatrick's death in their Lawrence County home early Oct. 13, 1997.

"We are tremendously gratified by the verdict," her attorney Ron Safer said, clutching Rea-Harper's arm outside the Clinton County courthouse. "This has been a nightmare nobody should have to live through."

The boy's father, Len Kirkpatrick, angrily left the courthouse after the verdict and declined to comment.

Rea-Harper, 37, was convicted in 2002 and sentenced to 65 years in prison. The trial didn't include a confession by Texas inmate Tommy Lynn Sells to the child's slaying. Prosecutors dispute the credibility of the confession.

Two years later, an appeals court dismissed her conviction on a technicality and ordered a new trial.

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

Rea-Harper told police she wrestled with a masked intruder who attacked her son. Her attorney argued that evidence demanding an acquittal included the absence of Joel's blood on her hands, arms, legs and clothes at a crime scene where the killer, forensic experts testified, would have been saturated with the boy's blood.

Prosecutors told the jury there were no signs of a struggle or that anyone had entered the house.

Special prosecutor David Rands called Sells "a red herring thrown up by the defense" and said he was not a suspect.

© 2006 The Associated Press