The Chicago mother walked out of prison a free woman. But, despite the legal victory that secured her release, Harris is still fighting to prove her innocence.
"I was beyond anxious," Harris said upon her release. "There aren't any words to describe it. None. There aren't."
Harris walked out of the Dwight Correctional Center just before noon, with family and friends waiting to greet her after a court overturned her conviction and ordered her released.
Harris served seven years of a 30-year sentence for the murder of her 4-year-old son. Monday morning, she was greeted inside the prison by her other son, 14-year-old Diante, who gave his mother a brown teddy bear and a balloon.
"I'm just overwhelmed and I'm thankful that it's going to be over," said Harris. "I just want to get home to my son. I'm just ready to get on with my life and hold my son."
Harris had been behind bars since May 2005. Following her confession to authorities, a jury found the then-23-year-old guilty of killing her son, Jaquari Dancy, with elastic from a bedsheet during a fit of rage at their Northwest Side home.
Harris has maintained her innocence, saying her confession to police after 27 hours of questioning was false.
"I knew that regardless of whatever happened that I had the truth behind me," Harris said Monday.
With the help of the Center on Wrongful Convictions and others, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed.
"There was so much about this case that troubled us even before we met Nicole," said Northwestern University's Center on Wrongful Convictions' Alison Flaum.
The judges ruled, among other things, that a then-6-year-old Diante should have been allowed to testify that Jaquari strangled himself as he played a "Spider-Man" game while their mother was at a nearby laundry.
"From the very beginning, we knew that Nicole was innocent," said Nicole's cousin Wanda Harris.
"I just want to enjoy my life," Harris said. "I'm glad to be free."
Harris remains in a kind of legal limbo. The state has appealed the ruling that overturned her conviction, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case.
Cook County prosecutors could still move to retry Harris. A spokesperson says no decision has been made yet.