In October 1997, 10-year-old Joel Kirkpatrick was murdered in the Lawrenceville, Illinois home of his mother, JULIE REA, a then Ph.D student at Indiana University. Five years later, a Wayne County jury found Julie guilty of the crime and sentenced her to 65 years in prison.
In 2004, Tommy Lynn Sells, a serial killer, confessed that he had broken into what he presumed to be Rea’s home, taken a knife from the kitchen, stabbed a little boy to death, and scuffled with a woman (the details of which were strikingly similar to Julie’s account of the crime). Also, the Downstate Illinois Innocence Project developed evidence indicating Sells had been in the area at the time of the crime. After the Sells confession, the Illinois Appellate Court reversed Julie’s conviction and remanded the case for retrial
The Center on Wrongful Convictions assembled a pro bono team led by Ronald S. Safer, managing partner of Schiff Hardin LLP, to represent Julie. The jury heard a tape of the Sells confession and Julie’s defense team produced extensive forensic evidence strongly indicating that an intruder, not Julie, had killed Joel and attacked her. The evidence established that Julie had suffered extensive injuries that could not have been self-inflicted. The jury ultimately returned a verdict of not guilty.
In November 2010, Julie hosted the first “Women and Innocence” conference in Michigan. The event was the impetus for Northwestern University School of Law’s Women’s Project and brought together all of the nation’s female exonerees (Laura Caldwell, founder and director of the Life After Innocence Project, was a guest speaker at the event).
Julie is currently applying for a master’s in aromatherapy and is working towards running her own Bed and Breakfast. She continues to work in the field of wrongful convictions and activism, seeking to promote a more humane and rational answer to the crimes that do occur and the damaged actions and people that commit them. She can be followed on two other websites, one the result of an organization she helped formalized as Women and Innocence and the other her professional website, REA Mitigation and Witness Preparation Consulting.
- Untangling a Murder Mystery (Story and Video) (ABC 20/20)
- Women and Innocence: An Interview With Exoneree, Julie Rae Harper (Lauracaldwell.com)
- Untangling a Murder Mystery (20/20)
- Unusual Suspects-Unbelievable Story (DiscoveryID)
- Downstate Illinois Innocence Project at UIS celebrates 10th anniversary