A Boy, 12, Was Coerced into Falsely Confessing to a Murder — and the Real Killer Is Still Out There

In an exclusive clip from this week's episode of 20/20, a now-grown Anthony Harris speaks out about being wrongfully convicted of murdering his 5-year-old neighbor, Devan Duniver, in 1998

Anthony Harris 20-20
Anthony Harris is interviewed by John Quinones in 1999. Photo: ABC 20/20

The summer of 1998 was devastating for residents of a New Philadelphia, Ohio, apartment complex, as two young community members were suddenly ripped from their lives.

On June 27 of that year, 5-year-old Devan Duniver disappeared from her apartment without a trace. For a moment there was hope that the girl was okay — hope that quickly dissolved the next day when her body was discovered in a wooded area nearby. She had been fatally stabbed in the neck seven times.

As locals reeled over the tragic and violent death of an innocent young girl, authorities were faced with mounting pressure to take her killer off the streets.

There were many possible suspects, according to claims made in lawsuits years later: Devan's custodial mother had allegedly called a suicide hotline not long before the murder and said she was considering harming herself and her children; Devan's biological dad allegedly had a history of domestic violence and was in a dispute with her mother at the time of the murder; Devan's mother's boyfriend had allegedly kidnapped Devan for three days the year prior and was mandated to stay away from her; Devan's brother was described by neighbors as violent and had been accused of stabbing a cat; and trained search dogs following Devan's scent led investigators toward the home of a convicted child molester who had recently been released from prison.

But rather than chasing those leads, detectives turned their focus to Devan's 12-year-old neighbor, a boy named Anthony Harris.

Harris was coerced into confessing to her murder during a hostile interrogation, and subsequently convicted and put behind bars — despite a lack of physical evidence tying him to the murder scene and repeated cries that he was pressured to make a false confession.

"The investigator, he had basically told me that, 'If you confess to this murder you can go home,'" Harris recalls in this week's episode of 20/20. "It's like, 'Okay. Well, I'm over here scared, so I want to go home.'"

Harris spent two years in juvenile detention before he won an appeal and got his conviction overturned, but the longstanding damage of being wrongfully accused — and knowing that Devan's killer still walks free — makes it hard to move on.

ABC News anchor John Quiñones catches up with a now-grown Harris after 20 years in an exclusive and emotional interview airing on 20/20 this week. PEOPLE got a sneak peek at their conversation, shown below.

Despite the suffering Harris has experienced, he has worked to overcome his past.

"There's no sense to be bitter," Harris tells 20/20. "Even though it hurt a lot, it didn't destroy my core as a person, the things I believe in, the things I grew up to become. That's why I don't hold resentment in my voice when I speak."

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Harris does, however, want Devan's killer brought to justice. "This guy, this individual's still free right now," he tells Quiñones. "We're going to figure this out [and] give her some kind of closure."

In addition to featuring Harris' first interview in two decades, Friday's 20/20 special — titled "Gone Before the Storm" — includes new interviews with Harris' public defender; Harris' lawyers for his appeal and civil lawsuit; the police officer who took the call from Devan's mother reporting her daughter missing; journalists who covered the case extensively; and legal experts.

The episode also features archival ABC News footage of Quiñones' 1999 interview with Harris, and previous conversations with Devan's mother, Lori Duniver, and Harris' mother, Cynthia Harris.

"Gone Before the Storm" airs Friday, May 6, at 9 p.m. ET. on ABC, and will be available for next-day streaming on Hulu.

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