Ex-Cop Guilty Of Teacher's Decades-Old Rape That Was Investigated On 'Cold Justice: Sex Crimes'

“Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” investigators had to leave Rogers, Arkansas before solving the 1997 rape of Amy Harrison. But last year, justice came.

Grant Hardin Pd

Forward-thinking sexual assault nurses and investigators who never gave up paved the way 21 years ago for an arrest in a brutal rape case with a perpetrator whose position in law enforcement couldn’t shield him from eventual justice. 

Amy Harrison was a 27-year-old teacher at Tillery Elementary School in Rogers, Arkansas. She was married to a local police officer and attended night classes at the University of Arkansas in the hope of becoming an attorney one day. 

On a Sunday morning in November 1997, Harrison was in the school preparing her lesson plans. She thought she was alone. However, as she was leaving the school restroom, she found that she wasn’t: A man in a stocking cap and sunglasses surprised her and forced her back into the restroom at gunpoint, then brutally raped her, according to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

And last February, she finally faced the man who assaulted her, after a long-stalled investigation was revived and featured on an episode of the "Cold Justice" spin-off “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes.”  

Harrison called 911 after her attacker fled, and the call is chilling. Through tears, Harrison told a dispatcher that she’d been “molested” at her school, and said the man acted as if she may have known him. 

The call was even disturbing for veteran Texas prosecutors and “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” hosts Casey Garrett and Alicia O’Neil. 

“The 911 call was very intense. It absolutely transported you back in time to a 27-year-old who was horribly and evilly attacked,” Garrett said on the episode. “Just the sheer fear in Amy’s voice. … I don’t think you have a beating heart if you can listen to that and not be completely distraught.” 

As the wife of a police officer, Harrison knew to commit many key details about her rapist to memory, even as she was being viciously attacked. He was a white male between the ages of 20 and 30, with a medium-stocky build. He had several days’ growth of beard and strawberry blonde hair, with a flat, wide nose. He wore dirty white socks and no shoes. 

“The whole time, I was just thinking, ‘I just wanna go home,’” Harrison said. 

And the investigation that followed her attack did not lack for effort. 

“Her hubbie was a cop, so the whole cavalry came out,” Garrett said in a recent interview with Oxygen.com. “They swabbed that entire town.” 

Police zeroed in on one suspect who had access to the school in off hours — a cafeteria manager. The man had allegedly made female employees at the school uncomfortable by “hitting on them,” and wasn’t far off from Harrison’s description. 

Worse for him, he was “horrible” in a police interview, Garrett said. In police footage featured on “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes,” the man was clearly nervous and told police, “I’m scared that you guys might think I’m guilty. … That bothers me.” 

A DNA sample had been salvaged from semen the attacker wiped on Harrison’s clothes, though, and the man was eventually ruled out as a suspect. 

“He was so squirrelly that, if not for DNA, he would probably be in jail now,” Garrett told Oxygen.com.  

Aside from helping authorities on a number of baffling cold cases, the “Cold Justice:” franchise has also helped by clearing people long suspected of a crime they didn’t commit, she added. 

“A lot of good came from that show,” Garrett told Oxygen.com. “We took people under great suspicion and we were able to eliminate them as suspects.” 

But, after just one promising suspect, the hunt dead-ended. 

“It was like he vaporized,” Garrett said. 

By 2003, with no break in the case, detectives faced the closing of the state’s statute of limitations. And so, they took a step that paved the way for justice to finally arrive last year: They filed a “John Doe warrant,” meaning that there was an open arrest warrant on whoever’s DNA was found on Harrison.  

“It was amazingly progressive, and saved their ability to prosecute this case,” Garrett said on the show. 

It was just a matter of waiting for a match. 

And it would be 15 years until they got one. A bizarre, seemingly motiveless murder committed by the police chief in nearby Gateway yielded a DNA sample that matched Amy’s attacker. Grant Hardin, 48 at the time, shot and killed city worker James Appleton, with no explanation, while he sat in his car in February 2017, according to local CBS affiliate KFSM.  

Hardin pleaded guilty to the murder in October of that year and was already serving his 30-year sentence when authorities charged him with Harrison’s rape. He pleaded guilty in February 2019, according to the Democrat Gazette, and was sentenced to 25 years on each of two rape counts. 

Harrison confronted her attacker at his sentence and told him, with tears in her eyes, that she did not deserve what he did to her, according to the Democrat Gazette. 

“So, now I am going to use my free will to overcome the evil you did to me,” Harrison said. “I am going to walk out of this building with my family and friends and enjoy the fresh air before I go home. I hope that my story is an encouragement to all survivors who fight for justice.” 

Garrett and Harrison connected deeply as “Cold Justice: Sex Crimes” collaborated with local authorities, even though the team had to leave Rogers before the case was solved, Garrett told Oxygen.com.  Harrison is now working as an attorney. They keep in touch to this day. 

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