Friday, January 13, 2012

TOP STORY >> Relatives glad killer given life sentence

Leader staff writer

Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes Wednesday afternoon before they convicted Alonzo Watson Jr., 21, for the capital murder of Daniel Dewayne Harris, 23.

Watson will be behind bars for life without the possibility of parole.

Harris was beaten with a 15-pound rock at least 24 times on Sept. 3, 2010, and his body was found next to his car behind Wild West Auction Services on South Redmond Road in Jacksonville.

The Harris family seemed awash with relief.

“We waited so long, over a year for this, and justice is finally served.We want to thank our friends and family for all their support,” said the victim’s mother, Bernita Laster. She cried and hugged the prosecutors after court adjourned.

Harris’ father, Daniel Lewis, said, “I’m glad justice has prevailed in this case. Wrong is wrong, and God knows the truth. I’d like to thank the jurors, the prosecutors and the justice system.”

The family’s pastor, Walter Harris, who said he was at the trial to provide them moral support, said, “I think its very sad and tragic when a young life is taken away.”

Several other relatives gasped, “Thank you, Jesus,” after hearing the verdict.

But Watson’s mother said after the verdict, “He’s not guilty.”

Prosecutor Barbara Mariani told the jury during the closing arguments, “He (Watson) went to other people’s houses and opened his mouth to so many people. He ripped that cloak of innocence off his own body,” as she recounted the fact that four witnesses heard him confess to killing someone the night of the murder.

There were no other homicides in Jacksonville on the day Harris was killed.

The prosecution said the motive for the murder was jealousy and implied that the two might have had a homosexual relationship.

Harris’ “shorts were around his ankles. There was gravel on his knees. He was with someone he trusted. He was allowing himself to be intimate with (Watson) and vulnerable. He didn’t know what was about to happen to him,” the prosecutor said.

The defense rebutted the insinuation, saying there were no rectal swabs and Watson had even dated the victim’s sister for a number of years. They argued the two were like brothers and that the prosecution did not provide a motive for the slaying.

According to the prosecution, the victim’s younger brother, O’Tarvarious Sekeeno Harris, saw Watson with the victim at 2 a.m. Watson and Harris had been close friends but had become estranged over the victim’s friendship with another man.

They say Watson showed up in bloodied clothes at the Jacksonville home of Sarah Whipple, his then-girlfriend, around 3 a.m. and told her he had killed someone.

According to Mariani, Watson changed his story after he saw how Sarah reacted to the statement. He then said he was just joking and had been in a fight with someone, but the other man was alive when he left.

The prosecutor said Whipple fled to Texas after the homicide because she didn’t want to be caught up in the case, and she has no reason to lie because she is not connected to any of the other witnesses.

Watson then went to the Jacksonville home of Vicki Jones, knocked on her door asking to use the restroom. She didn’t let him in, and a bicycle was left in her yard.

Marcus Deshone Hildreth gave Watson a ride at 4 a.m. and he heard Watson say, “I burned someone,” according to Mariani. She said burned was a term that means murdered.

Hildreth and one of the other four people who heard Watson confess are convicted felons. Hildreth also said Watson talked to him about the murder when they were in jail together later that month.

Mariani told the jury that to find Watson guilty of capital murder they needed to be sure the act was premeditated, but premeditated does not mean he sat down and planned it out. There is no length of time prescribed to premeditation, Mariani said.

She said he was thinking about killing Harris each time he picked up that heavy rock, which was in the courtroom wrapped with thick yellow evidence paper and labeled with the biohazard symbol.

“It’s easy to forget the victim,” the prosecutor said as she showed the jurors crime scene and autopsy photos.

Defense attorney Tom Devine compared the confessions to campfire stories that occur in small towns. He also said the state wanted them to be inflamed by the photos, but he pleaded with them to consider facts.

The defense emphasized that there was no DNA evidence from Watson at the scene and police never investigated other suspects.

Devine said the only evidence the prosecution had connected to Watson was his palm print on the car’s window, but that could have happened at anytime.

He argued that witnesses had everything to gain by pointing a finger at his client. He said Hildreth kept adding pieces to his story in order to help himself out with the criminal cases that were pending against him.

Devine also said Whipple left town because she didn’t want to be associated with the reputation Watson had gotten from the campfire stories about the homicide.

Police went to her and she decided they were going to bring her back to Jacksonville anyway, so she’d better tell them something, Devine claimed during closing arguments.

The defense also said she lied about Watson having scratches on his arms because police didn’t notice any injuries when he came in to talk to them as the last person who saw Harris, not as a suspect.

“There are holes there. There are gaps. Without a doubt there is no physical evidence against my client,” Devine said.

He ended his statements with a quote from John Adams, “Better that many guilty go free than an innocent man suffer.”

Mariani responded that some people leave DNA, while others don’t. She said the handprint was on the outside of the window, and there was blood near it.

“Before DNA, all we had were fingerprints, and that was fantastic evidence. It is still fantastic evidence,” Mariani said.

She then picked up the rock and swung it downward, counting out the 24 blows.

The prosecution ran through the timeline again and reminded the jury that there were multiple, consistent accounts from witnesses to Watson’s confession.

“This murder is about his (Watson’s) horrible anger and rage. To top it all off, he left him humiliated in death,” Mariani said.

Harris was found with his shorts pulled down around his ankles and his genitals exposed.

“You must hold (Watson) accountable,” she concluded.