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Freed Prisoner Marries his Longtime Fiancée

By David Simpson, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 18, 2004

Clarence Harrison on Saturday married the woman who believed in him when all he had to give her was a prison inmate's word of honor that he was innocent.

Harrison's engagement to Yvonne Zellars lasted six years - the final six of more than 17 years he spent behind bars for a rape he steadfastly denied committing. On Aug. 31, he was freed after prosecutors agreed with volunteer defense lawyers that recent DNA tests proved his innocence.

Less than three weeks after he won his freedom, Harrison and Zellars exchanged vows Saturday at the Straight Life Church of God Pentecostal in south DeKalb County. More than 200 people filled the pews of the sanctuary and frequently added applause or "amens" to the hourlong ceremony.

The couple's attendants stretched across almost the entire front of the sanctuary. They included two representatives of the Georgia Innocence Project, the group that sponsored Harrison's DNA tests and petitioned for his freedom. Executive Director Aimee Maxwell was a bridesmaid. Jason Costa, one of a handful of unpaid interns who tracked down the critical old evidence, was a groomsman.

Volunteer defense lawyer David Wolfe sat in a pew next to DeKalb District Attorney Jeff Brickman. He was one of many in the congregation who rose to snap photographs.

Yvonne and Clarence Harrison after their wedding ceremony on Saturday.
(Photo courtesy AJC)

Harrison wore a white tuxedo and the same reserved smile that has become familiar since his highly publicized release and subsequent interviews. His story resonated so deeply with the public that many of the wedding essentials were donated. Just this week, a caterer stepped forward, and several lodges have offered honeymoon or later vacation accommodations, said Georgia Innocence Project spokeswoman Lisa George.

The couple spoke softly to well-wishers after the ceremony. They asked for no interviews but did print a joint statement in the wedding program: "We would like to thank everyone who has assisted in making this day possible. This is our dream come true. We appreciate the warm outpouring of love and generosity that has been displayed to us and the loving greetings we have received on this great day. Continue to pray for our marriage."

Jeff Brickman, Dekalb County district attorney, takes photos during the wedding ceremony.
(Photo courtesy AJC)

The two met by chance seven years ago when a fellow inmate encouraged Harrison to talk on the phone with his girlfriend's mother. On the other end of the line, Zellars took an interest in Harrison. She wrote to him on religious subjects and began to visit him. After a year, he proposed.

Harrison was convicted in 1987 of a brutal rape and assault based largely on the victim's picking him out of a lineup. He pursued DNA testing shortly after his conviction, but the science at the time produced inconclusive results. New testing was done this year after he contacted the Georgia Innocence Project.