Prosecutors: Boyfriend used kitchen gloves while fatally shooting mother, 6-year-old son

Vince Harris and attorney Stacey Jackson listen to testimony in Harris’ double-murder trial.
Vince Harris and attorney Stacey Jackson listen to testimony in Harris’ double-murder trial. Tim Chitwood/tchitwood@ledger-enquirer.com

A crime scene investigator found a print pattern resembling dishwashing gloves on a box that contained the revolver that killed Tina Green Hall and her 6-year-old son on Feb. 24, 2012, he testified Monday in the double murder trial of Hall’s boyfriend, Vince Harris.

That could explain why police found only a particle of gunshot residue on Harris’ hands the Friday he reported finding the bodies about 1 p.m. in Hall’s 2352 Howe Ave. home in Columbus’ Oakland Park neighborhood, prosecutors said.

Harris, who was living with Hall and her son, told police the two were alive when he left the house at 5:30 a.m. that day to go to work at Columbus State University, where he drove a bus. He found their bodies when he got back from work, he said.

He told investigators Hall, 47, killed her son and then committed suicide, having succumbed to the strain of financial difficulties. Authorities initially reached that same conclusion, until a cold-case homicide investigator re-examined the deaths and decided Harris likely killed the two.

That investigator, police Sgt. Randy Long, testified Monday that the evidence didn’t match a murder-suicide.

A key piece of that evidence was a sheet on the twin-sized bed in which the two lay. When investigators reached the crime scene, they saw that the mother was half off the bed on the right side, and had pulled some of the bed coverings with her.

The boy lay on the bed’s left side, blood pooling beneath his head. Both had been shot in the chest.

The bullet that killed the mother lodged in her back. The one that killed the boy passed through his body into the mattress. Crime scene investigator David Jury testified the boy had been lying on his back when he was shot, then rolled onto his side and died.

For their deaths to have been a murder-suicide, the mother would have to have shot her son first, and then herself.

But investigators following up on the case noticed a discrepancy, while re-examining the evidence. Atop the mattress and beneath the boy’s body had been a fitted sheet police collected from the crime scene. When that sheet was refitted to the mattress, the bullet holes didn’t align.

The hole for the bullet that passed through Jeremy was not where it should have been, had he been shot first. It was at the far edge of the fitted sheet, where the mother’s body pulled it as she slid off the bed, mortally wounded, said Long and Jury.

For the sheet to be in that position when Jeremy was shot meant the mother was shot first, displacing the sheet as she slid off the bed, they said.

Long said he noticed something else that didn’t fit a murder-suicide: The .38-caliber revolver the fatal bullets came from wasn’t next to the mother’s body. It was at the foot of the bed.

“I didn’t know how it could get down there,” Long said.

An autopsy revealed the bullet that killed Hall traveled from left to right and downward. Investigators thought that odd because she was right-handed, and it should have come from the other direction, they said.

They theorized Hall would have to have held the gun in both hands, aimed it at herself, and used her thumbs to push the trigger back. Long testified that when investigators aimed the empty gun at themselves and did that, their thumbs became trapped in the trigger guard.

Jury testified he saw no visible gunshot residue on the woman’s hands, where it should have been had she fired the weapon. But Harris had no significant gunshot residue on his hands, either.

When he dusted the gun box for fingerprints, he found a distinct pattern commonly produced by kitchen dishwashing gloves, a pattern he’d noticed in other cases in which he knew such gloves had been used, Jury said.

Long and prosecutor George Lipscomb allege Harris, 57, killed Hall and her son because Hall was about to kick him out of their house. A woman had just forced him to leave a home in Harris County, after he had added her name to the deed, and he had vowed never to be put out again, Lipscomb said.

Harris’ defense attorney Stacey Jackson challenged investigators’ testimony regarding the positioning of the gun and the gunshot residue. He objected that neither Jury nor Long is a firearms expert, so neither is qualified to offer an opinion on such evidence.

Jackson suggested other circumstances could explain the bullet hole in the displaced bed sheet, and its evidentiary value was overblown.

Harris’ trial continues Tuesday morning in Judge Ron Mullins’ court on the Columbus Government Center’s 10th floor.

He is charged with two counts of murder. If convicted, he faces life in prison.