As a prosecutor called the man accused of killing his girlfriend and her 6-year-old son an unfeeling narcissist concerned only about himself, his defense attorney accused police of setting out to judge his client guilty despite any evidence to the contrary.
That’s how closing arguments went Wednesday in the double-murder trial of Vince Harris, who faces two murder charges in the Feb. 24, 2012, fatal shootings of 47-year-old Tina Green Hall and her son Jeremy in their 2352 Howe Ave. home, where Harris was living at the time.
“Vince Harris is a narcissistic individual without empathy,” prosecutor George Lipscomb told jurors, emphasizing Harris’ contention that Hall killed her son and then herself so she would not be a burden to him.
Though friends and family said Hall was devoted to her son, whom she fiercely protected to the point of chewing out a daycare worker who didn’t give him a juice box, Harris maintained she killed the boy for Harris’ benefit, “to do him a favor,” Lipscomb said.
“Does that sound crazy?” he asked the jury. “It is crazy, but not to Vince Harris.”
The assistant district attorney repeatedly used the defendant’s full name in an echo of the defendant, who in recordings of police interviews often referred to himself in the third person, either by his first or his full name, in statements such as:
- “Vince Harris don’t touch guns. Vince Harris don’t play with guns.”
- “Vince ain’t killed nobody.”
- “Vince ain’t hurt nobody in this house.”
- “Vince knows where Vince was.”
Said Lipscomb: “Vince Harris doesn’t think it’s crazy to refer to himself as ‘Vince Harris.’”
Lipscomb reiterated the prosecution’s theory that Harris was so infuriated by the many women in his life that he snapped when he learned Hall was about to kick him out of her Oakland Park home, where he’d been living since October 2011.
He was living there because a woman he’d added to the deed for his home in Harris County had forced him out, before his house went into foreclosure. Meanwhile his third wife was demanding alimony – he told police he still was furious about a court hearing with her just two days before the mother and son died – while his second wife already was getting about half his military retirement.
Though he was Hall’s live-in boyfriend, he was having sex with another woman, whom he tried to contact the day Hall and her son died, at one point texting the other woman, “What am I to you?”
A friend testified Harris once told her he would kill a woman before he’d let her kick him out of his home again.
In a police interview, Harris told detectives: “If I killed them, I would tell you I killed them.”
Asked what would make him kill, he replied someone’s trying to steal what he had worked for.
Though Hall was letting him live with her and her son, Harris reported finding their bodies by telling a 911 dispatcher: “Two people just killed themselves in my house,” Lipscomb noted, adding Harris called it his house a second time in that call, saying, “You don’t know what it is to go into your house and find two dead bodies.”
He claimed Hall killed her son and herself under the strain of “financial problems,” but friends said Hall had not seemed suicidal and in fact was looking forward to working full-time as a certified nurse.
Harris himself said that when he left at 5:30 a.m. that Friday to go to work driving a bus at Columbus State University, Hall appeared happy and smiling.
Police noted she also had set out her clothes to go to work at a part-time job at Fort Benning’s Burger King, which would have been odd for someone planning to kill herself.
The state’s evidence
Lipscomb ran through other evidence that didn’t fit a murder-suicide:
- The gun that killed the two belonged to Hall, and came from a lockbox she kept it in. The key was in a container that had been emptied onto the bed in the master bedroom, as if someone had sifted through them to find the right one. Presumably Hall would have known which one fit, but Harris would not have.
- Dusting the lock box for fingerprints, a police technician found a pattern resembling kitchen dishwashing gloves. “She wasn’t found wearing rubber kitchen gloves,” Lipscomb said of Hall.
- Harris said he and Hall had sex about 4:30 that morning, and she was in the bed in the master bedroom when he left. The bed was made when he reported finding the bodies in Jeremy’s room about 1 p.m. that day. That someone about to commit suicide would stop to make a bed was odd.
- An autopsy revealed the bullet that killed Hall traveled from left to right and downward into her chest, lodging in her back. That was odd because she was right-handed, so it should have come from the other direction.
- The .38-caliber revolver lay at the foot of the bed, not next to Hall’s body, and her hands had no visible gunshot residue, police said.
- For the deaths to be a murder-suicide, Hall had to shoot her son first and then herself. But when she was shot and slipped partly off the bed’s right side, she dragged the bed covers with her, displacing a fitted sheet beneath her. At the edge of that dislodged sheet was the hole from the bullet that killed Jeremy, passing through his body into the mattress. That evidence indicated Hall already was partially off the bed when the boy was shot, so she must have been shot first, police said.
- The mother’s body reportedly was cold and stiff, indicating she’d been dead at least eight hours, Lipscomb said, fitting the prosecution’s theory that Harris killed her and her son before he left for work that day.
Defense attorney Stacey Jackson blasted the lack of evidence tying Harris directly to the deaths, calling the prosecution’s case “speculation and conjecture.”
He suggested jurors ask themselves how Hall could have sprawled half off the bed and dislodged the fitted sheet beneath her without moving her son’s body at the same time, were she shot first. The boy’s body appeared to have remained in place.
Also crime-lab technicians called the alleged bullet hole from the shot that killed Jeremy a “defect” in the fabric which may not have been a bullet hole, Jackson said. The damage could have been caused by something else on some other day.
A detective whose squad initially ruled the deaths a murder-suicide stood by that conclusion in his testimony, Jackson noted.
Two witnesses reported seeing a man outside Hall’s home later that morning, after Harris left for work, and that could not have been Harris because records proved he was driving a CSU bus from 6:10 a.m. to 12:40 p.m., the attorney noted.
Harris had no record of domestic violence, but Hall’s ex-husband did, and as a teen had served time for murder, Jackson said. Hall had sought a protective order after he broke into her house, and that’s why she bought the revolver for self-defense, the attorney said.
Harris never behaved like a guilty man, Jackson said: He fully cooperated with police, submitted to two interviews without an attorney, provided a DNA sample, let police swab his hands for gunshot residue, and gave police his cell phone and the clothes he was wearing that day. He did not flee Columbus afterward.
Jackson also said police had crime-scene evidence they could have tested for DNA, but they did not, possibly because they didn’t want to find any evidence of Harris’ innocence.
The attorneys finished their closings Wednesday, so the jury now has to decide whether Harris is guilty or innocent.