Murder retrial: Witness said suspect tried to sell dead man’s car, TV

A Columbus man who once made crack runs for James Allen Harrison Jr. testified Friday that Harrison tried to sell Thomas Fred Day Jr.’s 1989 Mazda 626 and a TV set on Jan. 14, 1998, the day after Harrison fatally slashed Day’s throat.

That was the same day surveillance video in a Phenix City pawn shop recorded Harrison twice coming by to hock more than 100 of Day’s music compact discs, which Harrison claimed he found boxed in Day’s car, but prosecutors say he took from shelves in Day’s 1707 18th Ave. home.

Harrison told police he unintentionally cut Day’s throat the night of Jan. 13, 1998, as the two had a confrontation about some crack cocaine Harrison was to buy the disabled Phenix City man. But Russell County District Attorney Ken Davis maintains Harrison deliberately beat and cut Day to loot his home to get money for drugs.

Taking the stand Friday was John Hinton, now 62, who testified he knew Harrison as a crack buyer who cruised by a Third Avenue liquor store in Columbus looking for street dealers.

Harrison would give Hinton money for crack, and Hinton would buy it and bring it back, keeping either a portion of the drugs or the money for himself, Hinton said.

But on that Wednesday night in 1998, Harrison didn’t want crack, because he already was high, Hinton said. Harrison told police after his arrest he had bought some crack that Wednesday with the money he got from selling Day’s CDs.

That Wednesday night, he was trying to get more money, Hinton said. Harrison offered to sell the Mazda for $300 to Hinton’s sister, who upon checking the car realized it was worth far more. Deciding Harrison’s selling it so cheaply was suspicious, she refused.

Along with the car, Harrison tried to sell a TV set he had in the back seat, Hinton said, describing it as a modestly sized set that would rest atop a piece of furniture.

Investigators believe it was the TV that Day had kept in his bedroom.

Hinton testified he next saw Harrison on Friday, Jan. 16, 1998, at Second Avenue and Fifth Street in Columbus, where Harrison pulled up in the Mazda and asked Hinton to get him some crack. Hinton said he got in the car and told Harrison to drop him off in the Booker T. Washington housing complex, circle the block and come back to get him.

He said Harrison gave him $70, and he kept $20 for himself. Because he had a crack pipe in his jacket pocket, Hinton left his jacket in the car, lest he be stopped and searched, he said.

Hinton got the crack, but Harrison never came back.

That same day in Phenix City, Day’s father found his son’s body and told police the Mazda was missing, so they were looking for it.

As Hinton waited, Columbus police caught Harrison in Day’s Mazda at 10th Avenue and Victory Drive, and inside they found Hinton’s jacket, crack pipe and a check stub bearing his name.

Investigators soon came looking for Hinton, and questioned him about his connection to Harrison.

The only other witness who testified Friday was Phenix City Police Capt. Jim Hart, who videotaped the crime scene. Davis showed the jury the recording, which depicted Day lying on his back on his living room floor, face battered and throat gaping from the knife wound, blood on his white pullover shirt and sweat pants.

As Hart panned the camera around Day’s home, jurors could see the empty shelves where Day had kept his CD collection, and empty spaces where prosecutors believe Day’s CD player, VCR and bedroom TV had been.

Harrison has told police he cut Day after Day punched him in the ribs, but he never meant to kill Day. Harrison claimed he left Day’s home immediately after that, took nothing but Day’s car and never went back.

A medical examiner testified Thursday that Day had more than a cut throat.

Dr. James Lauridson said an autopsy showed Day’s head and face had scrapes and bruises with a “squared-off pattern,” as if struck with an object. His nose was crushed, breaking its bone and cartilage, and a blow to his neck above the cut in his throat smashed Day’s larynx and the bone under his tongue.

Lauridson also confirmed Day was partially disabled, unable to use his left arm. Earlier testimony showed Day sustained a brain-stem injury in a 1984 three-wheeler wreck that also impaired his gait, causing him to drag one leg. Prosecutors say Day’s arm was in a cast the night he was killed, so he would have been unable to defend himself from Harrison.

The prosecution rested its case Friday. The defense is to present its side Monday.

Harrison is represented by attorneys Walter Gray and Jeremy Armstrong.

When Davis rested the state’s case Friday, Armstrong asked Circuit Judge Al Johnson for a directed verdict of acquittal, arguing Davis had failed to prove Harrison killed Day with the intent to rob him — an element Armstrong said was required in a capital case.

Armstrong said the intent to kill and to rob must “co-exist” for Harrison to be convicted of a capital crime, for which the sentence could be death or life without parole.

Davis countered that whether Harrison killed Day with the intent to loot Day’s home, or just decided later to take Day’s valuables, is a question for the jury to decide. Johnson agreed.

This is the second time Harrison has been tried for Day’s homicide. His first trial was in 2000, and he was sentenced to death the next year. He won a retrial because two jurors in his first trial failed to answer accurately when asked about their potential prejudices.

Harrison’s defense attorneys are not disputing Harrison cut Day, but maintain the offense was not egregious enough to warrant the death penalty.

They said that if Harrison this time is not convicted of a capital crime, then he will be eligible for parole because of the time he has served.