Prosecutor in double murder trial says killer's story 'didn't add up'
The memory of Tina Green Hall forever could have been marred by the belief she murdered her only child before killing herself in the same bed on Feb. 24, 2012.
A jury Wednesday found boyfriend Vince Harris guilty of fatally shooting the mother and son before telling investigators she was distraught over financial difficulties and didn’t want to burden him, as he was helping pay her bills.
The jury deliberated 4½ hours before finding Harris guilty of two counts of murder. Judge Ron Mullins set Harris’ sentencing for 2 p.m. Dec. 15. He faces a maximum penalty of two life sentences without parole, said prosecutor George Lipscomb.
The homicides were particularly heinous as Harris had to have shot the mother first as she lay in a twin-size bed with her son. Lipscomb believes that first gunshot must have awakened the child, who likely cowered in terror as Harris shot him in the chest, too.
Harris then left the 2352 Howe Ave. home about 5:30 a.m. to go to work driving a bus at Columbus State University. He got off about 12:40 p.m. and arrived back at the Oakland Park home about 1 p.m., when he called 911 to report finding the bodies.
“Two people just killed themselves in my house,” he told the 911 dispatcher, informing her Hall was having financial difficulties. “You don’t know what it is to go into your house and find two dead bodies,” he said later in that call.
It was not his house. Hall had let him move in with her after he added another girlfriend’s name to the deed of a home he owned in Harris County, before the other woman kicked him out and the house went into foreclosure.
He later told a friend he would never let another woman put him out of his home, because he would kill her first.
Hall had planned to kick him out, friends and family said, and that’s what drove him to murder the mother and child.
His murder-suicide scheme worked, at first: Authorities initially concluded the case was a murder-suicide, though those who knew Hall told them she would never harm her son.
Also she had shown no signs she was suicidal. She was looking forward to getting a full-time job as a certified nurse, so she no longer would be working part-time at Fort Benning’s Burger King.
Even Harris said she had appeared happy the week before her death. When he left that morning, she was smiling, he said.
A mother remembered
Hall’s family declined to comment after Thursday’s verdict.
Lipscomb recalled what friends and relatives had told him about Hall:
“They told me that she loved that child more than anything else in the whole world. They told me that she had some money problems, but we all do — not the kind of money problems that would cause her to want to kill herself. In fact, she never ever mentioned to anybody that she wanted to kill herself. … She was just a normal single mom going about her daily life.”
That she could have killed Jeremy was contrary to everything anyone who knew her said, except for Harris, Lipscomb added:
“Once you have your own children, and you love those children, and someone comes up to you and suggests that a parent took their child’s life, as a parent it causes you to really look at that evidence hard, because you know that’s just not the way parents are wired.”
Yet Harris maintained the 47-year-old mother killed Jeremy and then herself so they wouldn’t strain his finances.
That just wasn’t believable, Lipscomb said:
“When Vince was saying that the motivation was that she killed that child for him, because she didn’t want to be a burden on him, that she would rather kill her own son than cause Vince Harris any more stress in his life, no, that just didn’t sound right.”
It also didn’t sound right to some detectives, who despite the initial conclusion, could not let it go.
In 2013, police Sgt. Randy Long, then a cold-case investigator, started re-examining the evidence, and Harris’ tightly woven narrative began to unravel.
Long found these circumstances did not fit Harris’ account:
- In the home’s master bedroom, a container of keys had been emptied onto the bed. Among them was the key to a lock box in which Hall kept the .38-caliber revolver used to kill the two. Hall presumably would have known which key fit, and would not have had to sift through the rest. But Harris would have had to do that to find the right key.
- A police technician dusting the lock box for prints found a pattern fitting kitchen dishwashing gloves, which would explain why hardly any gunshot residue was found on Harris’ hands.
- 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. That bed where the keys lay was made when he reported finding the bodies in Jeremy’s room later 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. 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. At the edge of that dislodged sheet was the hole from the bullet that passed through Jeremy’s chest into the mattress. That showed Hall already was partially off the bed when the boy was shot, and must have been shot first.
- The mother’s body was cold and stiff, indicating she’d been dead at least eight hours, fitting the prosecution’s theory that Harris killed her and her son before he left for work that day.
On Dec. 22, 2014, police brought Harris to the Public Safety Center downtown and charged him with two counts of murder. He was jailed for almost a year before being released on bond, pending his trial.
After the jury found him guilty Thursday, sheriff’s deputies took him into custody again, and returned him to the jail as he awaits sentencing.