In October 1997, Julie Rea was a single mother living in Lawrenceville, Illinois. But after the events of one fateful night, her son Joel was found dead in the house. While the authorities believed Julie was responsible, what followed were years of her maintaining her innocence, only to be vindicated close to a decade after the incident. ABC’s ‘20/20: Julie Rea’ focuses on Julie’s fight for her freedom. So, let’s find out where she might be today then, shall we?
What Happened to Julie Rea?
At the time the incident occurred, Julie was working towards her doctorate in educational psychology. The then 28-year-old had undergone a bitter divorce with Joel’s father and saw her son over the weekends. During the early hours of October 13, 1997, Julie was suddenly awoken by a scream. Concerned, she went to check on her 10-year-old son, who was nowhere to be seen. Instead, Julie stated that a man in a ski mask attacked her.
With a black belt in taekwondo, Julie said that she struggled with the intruder. She later said, “I didn’t know where Joel was, and I didn’t know what to do. I was screaming for help. I fell to the ground, and the person was behind me … hitting the back of my head, hitting my face into the ground.” The intruder eventually escaped. Until then, Julie believed that Joel had been kidnapped. But the authorities found him on the floor in between his bed and the wall. He was viciously stabbed to death.
However, there wasn’t a lot of evidence at the scene. There were no signs of forced entry, and Julie couldn’t remember if she locked the back door. The murder weapon was from the kitchen and had no fingerprints. Joel’s room, though, was not dusted for prints. The case hit a wall, but in October 2000, Julie was indicted for murder. The authorities believed that there was no intruder and that Julie had killed her son. At the time, the prosecution claimed that bloodstain pattern evidence proved that.
Julie was shocked when she learned she would be tried for Joel’s murder, saying, “Surviving your child’s murder, only to find out that you’re being accused of murdering your child, is a kind of trauma that I wouldn’t wish on any living being. I wouldn’t wish it on a snake.” Despite only circumstantial evidence, Julie was convicted of first-degree murder and was handed down a 65-year sentence in 2002. All the while, Julie maintained her innocence.
Where is Julie Rea Now?
The case took another turn in 2003 when a serial killer on death row in Texas, Tommy Lynn Sells, confessed to Joel’s murder. His account of what happened seemed to corroborate Julie’s version of events. The same year, her conviction was overturned because of a technicality, and in 2006, she was tried again. This time, Julie took the stand to tell her story while her defense tried to poke holes in the evidence presented. In the end, Julie was found not guilty. A couple of years later, the National Academy of Sciences criticized bloodstain pattern evidence and its reliability.
In 2010, Julie was officially exonerated. She believed things would go back to normal after that, adding, “I thought everything would be better. I thought I might go to law school or finish my doctoral degree. I thought I’d be strong and able to help other people and give back to my family and friends who had given so much to me. I just had no idea what it would be like.” Julie also talked of the physical and emotional abuse she faced while incarcerated.
Julie struggled with PTSD in the years after her release. She had to go to therapy and had a service dog to help her through her days. Julie moved to Tennessee in 2011 and ventured into the bed and breakfast business, though that didn’t work out. Reports indicated that she was applying for a master’s degree in aromatherapy and has worked to spread awareness regarding wrongful convictions. Julie seems to be doing much better now while spending time with her dog and exploring her hobbies.
Read More: Is Tommy Lynn Sells Dead or Alive?