April 9, 2007
Wrongly imprisoned death row inmate to give talk
By Banks Albach, Palo Alto Daily News
Whether it's red licorice vines, fishing at the beach or watching his
1-year-old daughter eat a blueberry, the little things matter most now for
46-year-old Nick Yarris, who spent 23 years on death row for a crime he
More than three years after DNA testing freed him from a tiny cell in a
Pennsylvania prison, Yarris is a devoted opponent of capital punishment and
speaks frequently about his nightmare behind bars. He'll be at Stanford
University Tuesday night.
In a couple of months, Yarris will be able to say he's only spent half of
his life in solitary confinement, instead of a majority. "For the last 14
years in prison, I didn't touch another human being," he said in a telephone
The event is organized by Stanford Beyond Bars, a student group focused on
incarceration issues that aims to raise awareness about America's prison
population. Some of the students have pen pals on death row, organizer
Jacquelyn Gauthier said.
Besides listening to Yarris, the audience can catch some glimpses of "After
Innocence," a 2005 Sundance Film Festival winner about a group of falsely
imprisoned men who were later exonerated.
Yarris' sentence started with an attempted murder and kidnapping conviction
for an incident in late December 1981. He was acquitted by a jury on those
charges a year later.
But while behind bars, he was falsely implicated in a murder that had
occurred shortly before his arrest. A neighboring inmate told authorities,
in exchange for a lighter sentence, that Yarris had confessed to the murder
of Linda Mae Craig, who was sexually assaulted and killed after being
abducted from mall in Delaware County, Pa., in mid-December 1981.
Yarris said the detective on the case also convinced two witnesses to lie,
claiming they saw Yarris at the mall in question the day the murder
happened. Their testimony sent him to death row.
"I was a mess," Yarris said. "I was a 20-year-old drug addict (and) car
thief. I deserved to be in prison for my behavior, but the things that
befell me were wrong."
Yarris managed to escape in 1985 while en route to a hearing on destroyed
evidence. He turned himself in in Florida 25 days later.
In 1988, Yarris became the first death row inmate to request DNA testing. It
took 15 years, but the final test showed no sign of his DNA among the
evidence collected in Craig's murder and instead pointed to two unknown
males whose DNA showed up under Craig's fingernails, in semen taken from her
underwear and in the killer's gloves. After the tests, the two witnesses
came forward and admitted they had lied. Yarris was freed from prison in
The event starts at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Cubberley Auditorium at the School of
Education at Stanford, 85 Lasuen Mall. For more information call,
Source : Palo Alto Daily News