Saffron Walden: Death Row survivor’s gratitude to ‘town that changed my life’

Nick Yarris (right) and Laurie Poole, owner of the Toll House in Newport.

Nick Yarris (right) and Laurie Poole, owner of the Toll House in Newport. - Credit: Archant

A former prison inmate, who spent 21 years on death row in the US for a crime he didn’t commit, has thanked the people of Saffron Walden for “changing his life”.

Nick Yarris, 52, was in town to sign copies of his book ‘7 days to live’ – which tells the incredible story of how he faced the electric chair after being framed for the rape and murder of a young mum in his native Pennsylvania more than 30 years ago.

DNA evidence cleared him of the crime he wrongly served 8,057 days behind bars for – mostly in solitary confinement – and he was freed in 2004.

“Forty people from the community made me feel so welcome on Tuesday night. Everything just felt right,” said Mr Yarris, who spent part of his incarceration in a cell with infamous serial killer Ted Bundy. “I feel so happy and blessed to have been able to come here just before Christmas and see all the amazing lights, the Christmas tree and the festive spirit shown by everybody. It is a wonderful town and the perfect place to round-off our trip before we head off to Los Angeles to discuss the book being made into a movie.”

“I feel like everything in my life has changed with this one experience.”

Mr Yarris’s talk in Saffron Walden fell on the anniversary of 32-year-old Linda Craig’s death, the woman he was convicted of raping and murdering in 1982.

A year earlier, the then 19-year-old drug addict and alcoholic, had been arrested in a stolen car after jumping a red light. He was subsequently charged with attempted murder after getting into a scuffle with the policeman who pulled him over, leading to the officer’s gun going off.

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In an attempt to bargain his way out of jail, Mr Yarris accused a man, who he believed to be dead, of killing Ms Craig after reading a newspaper report about the case while in custody.

This backfired when he found himself accused of the crime before being convicted on flimsy evidence and sentenced to death.

Schoolteacher Emma Dobson, who lives in Hilltop Lane, Saffron Walden, was instrumental in organising Mr Yarris’s visit. He thanked her for her support and said he was now looking forward to marrying his English fiancée, Jessica Stubley, 23, in January, on the 10-year anniversary of his release.

Mrs Dobson, a sociology teacher at Leventhorpe School in Sawbridgeworth, first met Mr Yarris when he was a speaker at a conference five years ago.

She said: “Nick is such a charming individual and when he talks it is amazing. Statistics show 85 per cent of death row inmates, released for being wrongly convicted, commit suicide within 10 years so this is why it is such a poignant occasion for Nick.

“It’s nice he was so taken aback by his experience of Saffron Walden. Nick is someone who wears his heart on his sleeve and when he feels something emotionally he doesn’t hesitate to say it. I guess sometimes we forget how lovely our town is.”

Laurie Poole, who owns the Toll House B&B in Newport where Mr Yarris stayed after doing his talk, was at the King’s Arms. He said: “Nick really speaks from the heart. He is a lovely lad and it is an incredible story. When he finished telling it to people there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

Anyone interested in buying a copy of 7 days to live can do so by calling Mrs Dobson on 01799 527611 or e-mailing