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Date: 11-17-2023

Case Style:

State of Washington v. Benjamin Harris

Case Number:

Judge: Not Available

Court: Superior Court, Pierce County, Washington

Plaintiff's Attorney: Pierce County Washington District Attorney's Office

Defendant's Attorney: Murray Anderson

Description: Jimmy Lee Turner was found shot to death outside his home on June 14, 1984, in Tacoma, Washington. He had been shot in the head and the neck. The Tacoma Police Department (TPD) began an immediate investigation into the shooting.

Later, on the same day, defendant Harris called Sergeant Parkhurst of the TPD and asked if Parkhurst had heard rumors of defendant being involved in the homicide. On the same day, the police obtained an oral statement from Raymond E. Meeks who stated he had had conversations with defendant Harris and codefendant Bonds regarding Bonds' acceptance of a contract from defendant Harris to kill certain persons.

Over the next 2 weeks, the investigation continued with the TPD hearing that defendant Harris, among other people, might have been involved in the shooting. On July 2, 1984, Detective Bowen and Sergeant Parkhurst went to Harris' home to talk with him about the homicide. The officers were invited in by the defendant who voluntarily talked to them about Turner. The Defendant was not advised of his rights but would not have been detained or arrested had he refused to talk to the police.

On July 17, 1984, the defendant called Sergeant Parkhurst and said he would give the police the name of a suspect in the Turner homicide. Defendant also asked two favors of the police: (1) to be furnished with two guns for protection; and (2) for a conversation with Meeks, then in the county jail. The defendant came to the county jail on July 18, 1984, and was allowed to talk with Meeks (he was not given any guns).

After defendant visited with Meeks, he told police he was with codefendant Bonds the evening of the killing. No Miranda warnings were given. The police then talked with Meeks who signed a formal statement implicating defendant in Turner's death. This statement was corroborated by Valerie Stevens.

On July 19, 1984, defendant went to the TPD and was interviewed again. Prior to any questioning, the defendant was advised of his Miranda rights. Following the questioning, the defendant was allowed to leave. The defendant continued to call Sergeant Parkhurst. The defendant was subsequently arrested as a material witness and released on personal recognizance. On August 8, 1984, the defendant was arrested as a suspect in the Turner killing.

On August 10, 1984, the defendant was arraigned on charges of aggravated first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty. On September 20, 1984, a hearing was held to determine the admissibility of the defendant's inculpatory statements made to police before July 19, 1984. The trial court concluded all statements made by the defendant before July 19, 1984, were admissible.

An order was entered, at defense counsel's request, on September 28, 1984, enabling the defendant to be examined at Western State Hospital. While at Western State Hospital, the examining psychologist, Dr. Kathleen Mayers, performed three psychological tests on the defendant: (1) Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI); (2) Rotter Incomplete Sentences Blank; and (3) Rorschach Diagnostic Procedure. In her report dated October 8, 1984, Dr. Mayers stated defendant was competent to stand trial.

Harris' lawyer convinced him to testify that he and Bonds both shot Turner. The idea was that since the State claimed that Harris had paid Bonds to commit the murder, testimony that he actually participated in the murder would result in an acquittal. Other lawyers who represented Harris considered the idea to be "about as stupid as it can get and it did not work.

Forensic evidence that was not brought up at trial showed that only one person shot the gun that killed Turner.

Outcome: On October 29, 1984, the jury returned a verdict finding defendant guilty of aggravated murder in the first degree. On October 31, 1984, the same jury was convened for the sentencing phase of trial. The prosecutor advised defense counsel about the unscored MMPI just prior to the commencement of the sentencing phase. Discovery of the unscored MMPI had been made by the prosecutor on October 30, 1984. No psychological data was presented to the jury as mitigating circumstances. The jury determined there were not sufficient mitigating circumstances presented to merit leniency.

Defendant argued on appeal that the police should have issued Miranda warnings to him for all statements made after July 2, 1984, and prior to July 19, 1984, because their investigation had focused sufficiently on him as a suspect shortly after Turner's death. The State responds that defendant voluntarily gave information to the police and was not the focus of the investigation until the police received sworn written statements from Raymond Meeks and Valerie Stevens.

Defendant's conviction was affirmed on October 2, 1986.

A team of lawyers continued to work to challenge the death sentence.

On May 17, 1994, the United States District Court granted Harris' Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus based on ineffective assistance of counsel.

The prosecutor did not have sufficient evidence to re-try Harris and the charges were dismissed.

Harris was exonerated in 1997.

The State of Washington then sought to have Harris civilly committed as a dangerously mentally ill person.

On July 16, 1997, a jury found Harris to be mentally ill but recommended that he be treated in a less restrictive environment and he was placed in a facility to help him learn living skills for a transition to freedom.

Harris died in 2018 after being released.

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