Friday, November 1, 2013

Trial by jury

Uriah Harris of Henrico, accused of savagely beating a Goochland special education teacher in the parking lot of the middle school last December 5, requested a trial by jury as is his right.

That trial, at which Harris represented himself after firing several court appointed attorneys, took place in Goochland Circuit Court on October 31, Halloween.

Court spectators included some teachers, representatives of the Richmond media, which only comes to Goochland for bad things, District 3 school board member John Lumpkins and, briefly, Dr. James Lane, superintendent of schools.

The bizarre manner in which Harris conducted his own “defense,” seemed appropriate for the date.
Under our system of law, opting for a jury rather than a bench trial, when the judge hears the evidence and arguments before pronouncing a verdict, provides an opportunity for the defense to create enough reasonable doubt about guilt to lead to acquittal. 

The Harris jury, comprised of eight women and two men, reached a unanimous guilty decision less than 15 minutes, and swiftly recommended a prison sentence of 16 years.

Goochland’s Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney, D. Michael Caudill acted as prosecutor. Among the evidence he presented as proof that Harris was guilty as charged, was a video recorded by the security camera from the Middle School parking lot, where the crime occurred on December 5, 2012. This clearly showed the victim walking out of the school, Harris driving up and attacking her between parked cars.
Harris, who has been incarcerated since he was arrested last December, appeared in court in a business suit. To ensure the safety of all present, at least 10 Goochland deputies surrounded him at all times. He contended that his Constitutional rights under the 5th, 6th, and 14th amendments had been violated. He repeatedly insisted that the wording of his indictment was incorrect.

Jurors watched this video twice in open court, once when the victim was on the stand, again during testimony of one of the teachers who came to her rescue.

The rescuers, husband and wife middle school teachers of slender build, who did not hesitate to intervene heedless to their own safety, gave their students a real life object lesson in good citizenship.

According to convincing testimony by the victim and her rescuers, Harris grabbed the victim, pushed her to the ground and beat her with his hands and fists and pounded her head into the asphalt of the parking lot, displaying “greater rage, anger, and violence than I had ever seen before.” Eventually, Harris walked away and drove off.

The husband described screams from the victim as sounding like a hurt dog. Both said that in comparison to Harris, who is a tall, muscular man, the victim looked like a middle school student.

Deputy Stephen Creasey, the first on the scene, helped EMTs stabilize and prepare the victim for transport.
While rolling the victim to her side in order to put her on a backboard, a he found a knife lying under her.
An emergency room doctor from the MCV trauma center testified that the victim was concussed and needed nine staples to close a scalp wound.

Although he said in a brief opening statement that the whole truth would be revealed during, the trial, Harris offered neither a shred of evidence nor a syllable of refutation of testimony in his defense. In a brief cross examination of the victim, he alluded to texts sent by the victim, but failed to produce proof that they existed.
During the penalty phase of the trial, when his previous convictions were disclosed to the jury, Harris held up a copy of his criminal record and said “that’s a hell of a rap sheet.” He professed his love for the victim, but failed to explain how that affection resulted in a beating. Harris also told the jury that he had two children and did not want to be away from them.

Goochland Circuit Court Judge Timothy K. Sanner, who worked hard to ensure that Harris’ rights were protected, told the jury that it was empowered to recommend a sentence of not less than five, nor more than 20 years and a fine up to $100,000.

The victim testified that she still has some neurological deficits resulting from the beating, including vertigo and memory issues.

Final sentencing will take place on January 7, 2014. Harris seems to have indicated that the verdict will be appealed.

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