Wednesday, May 22, 2013 02:24 pm
The right to remain silent
But Harris didn't shut up
As a murder suspect, Christopher Harris was less than astute.
Informed of his constitutional right to remain silent on the day of his arrest, Harris kept talking to police, saying things that he knew were not true as a video camera in a sheriff’s department interview room captured everything.
“You guys aren’t close,” Harris said just before the noose closed.
“We’re just following up on questions,” replied Thomas Vagasky, a special agent with Illinois State Police who, along with special agent Robert Michael Jennings, had interviewed Harris the previous night and collected prints.
The cops were closer than Harris thought.
“There are some things that can be explained away and some things that can’t be explained away,” Jennings told Harris after nearly an hour of we’re-just-talking-here.
We’ve matched one of your prints to a bloody palm print found in the home where five people were bludgeoned to death with a tire iron, Jennings said.
“Impossible,” Harris replied. “It’s not possible.”
The detective walked Harris through the forensics. His palm print, in blood, was on a countertop in the master bathroom, right above the battered body of Austin Gee, 11. Austin’s parents and two siblings had also been killed with a tire iron repeatedly beaten into their skulls. His sister Tabitha, 3, was left for dead with two tire iron blows to her head.
“This definitely indicates to anybody – a jury, a grand jury, a judge, anybody with a fucking brain in their head – you were there,” Jennings told Harris, who had fooled him during an interview the previous night and walked free. “Did you come in after it happened?”
Nope, insisted Harris, who now says that he was, in fact, in the house that night but did not kill anyone save Dillen Constant, Austin’s 14-year-old half-brother. Harris is claiming self defense, saying that Dillen killed his family, then attacked him when he stopped by unexpectedly.
In the 15 minutes or so before his arrest, Harris played ostrich, saying repeatedly that he was never in the home and peering at photographs of his palm print taken by police and a bloody print found in the home. At one point, he shows an outstretched palm to police to convince them that lines on his hand don’t match the bloody print scrutinized by forensic scientists.
“Look at that,” says Harris, pointing at one of his palms. “There’s lines.”
Maybe you blacked out, Jennings suggested. Maybe you got in a fight with Raymond “Rick” Gee, father to Harris’ ex-wife who was found dead in a hallway – after all, Harris had just walked out on Gee’s daughter who had just given birth to his son. Maybe you’re covering up for the real killer.
No, Harris kept saying. You’ve got the wrong man.
“That’s blood, partner,” Jennings said. “That’s a pressure (palm) print.”
“That’s my hand?” Harris exclaimed.
“We’ve already taken your print, Chris,” Vagasky said.
“What would you think if you were in our shoes?” Jennings asked.
“I don’t know,” Harris responded in a breaking voice. “I was never there. I did not go there. It’s impossible.”
Within minutes, he was handcuffed.
Forensics tip toward defense
Prosecutors are using Harris’ lies to police as evidence that he concocted a self-defense story out of desperation after being cornered. And Tuesday morning, when jurors saw the recording of Harris’ feeble fibs, certainly belonged to the prosecution.
With one exception, the afternoon was a different matter.
The defense did not object when prosecutors gave jurors cheat sheets that listed where DNA samples were found at the crime scene. With more than 60 samples introduced into evidence, there were certainly a lot to keep track of.
To give jurors a list of the prosecution’s evidence is to reduce chances for mistakes and arguments during deliberations while jurors compare notes and scuttle chances for a hung jury, if not an acquittal. But as Jennifer Aper, an Illinois State Police forensic scientist, stated her findings over the course of more than two hours, it became clear why the defense wasn’t worried.
Time after time, Aper said that Dillen’s DNA could not be excluded from blood stains, pools and splatter marks from throughout the house. That wasn’t the case with his slain relatives or Harris, which fits the defense’s contention that Dillen killed his family. And so, when deliberations begin, jurors, helped by a list, will know that Dillen could have been present when blood was spilled in several places.
More importantly, Aper testified that DNA found under Raymond “Rick” Gee’s fingernails came from Dillen. Under questioning by assistant attorney general Michael Atterberry, Aper said that there is no way of knowing whether the DNA got there via violent or non-violent means. None of the other victims had DNA that could be linked to another person under their fingernails.
On the downside for the defense, Aper said that DNA from a blood-soaked mattress in the master bedroom came from Dillen, whose body was found in a different part of the room, lending credence to the prosecution’s theory that the body of the teen whom the defense says is the killer had been moved. And, curiously, DNA from a bloodstain in a bedroom shared by Tabitha and Austin Gee came from 16-year-old Justina Gee, found on her bed in a separate bedroom with head injuries so severe that brain matter was puddled on the floor.
What is missing so far is a crime reconstructionist who can connect the dots and spin a story that makes sense from the science. As it stands now, at least from a forensic standpoint, the jury has little more than a bunch of blood and DNA – a little here, a little there, a lot over there and some more here -- which isn’t surprising given the number of victims and means of death. It seems that jurors may be on their own when it comes to interpreting the evidence.
Contact Bruce Rushton at firstname.lastname@example.org.