Harris pleads not guilty to 2011 murder charge
Harris trial in late June could take a week and a half
A defendant charged with using a garrote to kill an older man in 2011 pleaded not guilty to the murder charge Monday in Osage County District Court.
The trial of James Paul Harris, 29, will start June 23, and is expected to require 11/2 weeks.
District Court Judge Phillip Fromme noted prosecutors have listed 30 names of potential witnesses to testify during the trial. The judge set aside several days in the week of June 30 to complete the trial.
Security during the approximately 30-minute hearing was heavy. Six Osage County sheriff’s deputies were spread around the large courtroom while Harris sat at the defense table with two attorneys. Harris remains in custody and was wearing handcuffs and leg irons.
Harris is charged with premeditated first-degree murder in the March or April 2011 death of James Gerety, who was killed between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011, according to an Osage County District Court criminal complaint.
On March 14, a former girlfriend of Harris testified he told her he killed a 49-year-old Topeka man using a guitar string to sever the victim’s head, disposed of the body and kept the head in a bag.
On Monday, the judge denied a defense motion requesting him to examine records compiled by a Topeka lawyer, Thomas C. Henderson, who was the payee to Gerety for Social Security benefits the victim received.
“I’m just not comfortable waiving the privilege for (Gerety),” Fromme said.
Defense attorney James Campbell said he was looking for dates that Henderson met with Gerety in January, February and up to March 3, 2011.
Campbell said he wanted Fromme to waive the attorney-client privilege because the defense attorney thinks exculpatory information exists that would aid Harris.
Shawnee County chief deputy district attorney Jacqie Spradling countered the attorney-client privilege survives the death of Gerety, and the information Campbell wanted the judge to disclose is covered by the privilege.
During Harris’ March 14 preliminary hearing, Henderson testified Gerety never failed to pick up his money from the attorney on the scheduled date until March 15, 2011, when he didn’t show up at the attorney’s office.
Gerety planned to live with Harris at a home in Carbondale and to be driven to the Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center to receive daily treatment, Henderson testified. On April 19, 2011, Henderson contacted Topeka police to report Gerety missing, the lawyer testified.
A part of the victim’s skull was discovered March 24, 2012, at a house in rural Carbondale in Osage County. Shirley Johnson, who lives with Jeff Harris, the defendant’s father, testified she was searching for mushrooms when she found a “ball” — the top of Gerety’s skull — and took it inside to show Jeff Harris. He called police. Another witness, Topeka police Detective Brian Hill, testified Bobbie Williams, Harris’ girlfriend, told him during questioning that Harris kept the victim’s head nearby so he could talk to it. Harris was into voodoo and practiced it, Hill said Williams told him.
Hill said Williams told him Harris had a canvas bag with a drawstring where he kept the head.
When Williams testified, she said Harris told her he shot the victim in the stomach, tortured him for two days at the house she and Harris lived in at S.W. 15th and Tyler in Topeka, then cut off his head.
Harris buried the rest of the victim’s body on land owned by his father, Jeff Harris, at 187th Street in Osage County, but those body parts haven’t been recovered. Harris had a voodoo doll made of cloth, which was named “Jimbo,” “Bob on the Hill” and “Poor Jimbo Bolinsky” and hung from a ceiling at the couple’s Tyler apartment.
Harris is being prosecuted by Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones and Spradling, who also heads the Cold Case Homicide Unit in the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office.