Years after Anthony Harris' conviction was overturned, murder of little girl remains unsolved

Investigators have not caught Devan Duniver's killer.

May 5, 2022, 10:01 AM

Anthony Harris was 12 years old when he was charged and later convicted of murdering his 5-year-old neighbor, Devan Duniver.

Harris’ conviction was eventually overturned and, more than 20 years later, he said he is still haunted by the grisly crime.

"She was so young and she had passed away," Harris, told ABC News' "20/20" as he held back tears during an exclusive interview two years ago.

Anthony Harris speaks to John Quinones in his first broadcast interview after his conviction was overturned.
ABC News

Harris, who has served as a Marine, said he is frustrated that Devan's killer has never been identified or captured.

"The girl's dead, my life has been destroyed, and this guy, this individual's still free right now," he said during an interview with "20/20" airing Friday, May 6, at 9 p.m. ET.

Harris' sentiment has been shared by residents, who spent hours searching for Devan after she went missing on June 27, 1998, from her New Philadelphia, Ohio, neighborhood. Harris alleged that there were leads in the case that were not pursued.

Devan disappeared after she went outside to play. When her mother, Lori, discovered Devan was gone, she spent the afternoon looking for her and called the police in the evening. Harris and his family lived in the same apartment complex as the Dunivers and aided in the search.

PHOTO: Devan Duniver is pictured in a family photo
Devan Duniver is pictured in a family photo.

Hundreds came out to help in the search.

The next day, Devan was found in the woods behind her home dead with multiple stab wounds to her neck.

Investigators claimed Harris provided inconsistent details about where he was and what he was doing during the time the girl was missing when he was initially questioned.

Two weeks after Devan's body was found, the police called Harris and his mother Cyndi to the stationhouse, where the then-12-year-old Harris was placed in an interrogation room with Thomas Vaughn, the police chief of nearby town Millersburg.

Harris’ mother could watch through a two-way mirror but was unable to hear what was being said.

Vaughn repeatedly questioned Harris about whether he killed Devan, according to the audio of the interrogation. At first, Harris denied he was involved but he said Vaughn's pressure got the best of him.

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

Harris ultimately confessed and was charged with murder. His case was a juvenile proceeding and, therefore, absent a jury; Harris' fate was determined by Juvenile and Probate Court Judge Linda Kate.

Harris' attorney Tarin Hale tried to suppress the taped confession from evidence but the motion was rejected by Judge Kate.

"My statement was very clear, there is no evidence in this case. That's all you need to know from me. There's no evidence here," Hale told "20/20."

Three members of the search party who combed the area in 1998 to find Devan told "20/20" they believe that there are elements surrounding Devan's death that are troubling.

An appeals court overturned Anthony Harris' 1999 murder conviction.
ABC News

Donna Wenger, Nancy Niarchos and Jim Milliken all said they searched by the area where Devan's body was found and didn't see her. They said they believe her body was dropped at the spot later.

Wenger, Niarchos and Milliken each testified as witnesses during the trial and they recall seeing a man in the area who was wearing a long-sleeve plaid flannel shirt, which they said was odd given that it felt like a 90-degree summer day.

"I thought, 'My God, is that guy ever creepy,'" Niarchos told "20/20." "He was so suspicious looking and he was right there. I thought, 'What is he doing here?'"

Kate ultimately found Harris guilty in 1999 and sentenced him to the maximum, incarceration until he turned 21.

Donna Wenger, Nancy Niarchos and Jim Milliken told '20/20' they saw a suspicious man in the woods near the location where Devan Duniver's body was found
ABC News

Harris, however, would get a second chance on appeal.

On June 7, 2000, the Ohio 5th District Court of Appeals overturned the conviction and determined that Harris' confession was coerced.

Harris was released the next day.

"There's no sense to be bitter," Harris told "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."

Anthony Harris spoke with '20/20' in 1999, when he was 13 and on trial for the murder of Devan Duniver
ABC News

Devan Duniver's murder remains unsolved.

The last time the investigation picked up was in 2005 when Richard Dobbins was appointed as special prosecutor. He conducted a two-year probe and ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone.

Wenger, Niarchos and Milliken told "20/20" they were never contacted by the special prosecutor to discuss the case.

Ryan Styer, the district attorney for Tuscarawas County, Ohio, which currently has the files related to the special prosecutor's investigation, told "20/20" in a statement that, after reviewing the findings, he believes investigators "invested a lot of time conducting many interviews of witnesses and known persons of interest."

He said he also feels there’s insufficient evidence for prosecution but has asked authorities to speak to the witnesses from the trial "20/20" interviewed.

PHOTO: Anthony Harris speaks to John Quinones in his first broadcast interview after his conviction was overturned
Anthony Harris speaks to John Quinones in his first broadcast interview after his conviction was overturned.
ABC News

Harris said he hasn't given up his drive to help find the person responsible for killing Devan.

"We're going to figure this out [and] give her some kind of closure," he said.