A jury this afternoon convicted Rev. James Richard Harris of lewd and lascivious battery and other charges connected to allegations that he molested a 15-year-old under the guise of making him a football star, and videotaped him and others engaged in sexual acts.
The three men and three women on the panel returned the verdict after three hours of deliberation, ending a three-day trial against the 64-year-old former Belle Glade minister who for years was a fixture on the sidelines at Glades Central High school’s football games.
Harris sat without reaction to the verdict, but as soon as Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes told him that he would have to go to jail until his Oct. 5, he pulled a handful of pills out of his pocket and tried to swallow them, reaching for a cup on water on the defense table. Court deputies quickly tackled him and ordered him to spit them out, and deputies cleared the courtroom.
“Nothing surprises me about him,” prosecutor Chrichet Mixon said as the deputies ushered everyone out of the courtroom.
Harris’ actions brought an odd end to what was an unusual three-day trial in the case.
Prosecutors say Harris used his connection to the program to lure the 15-year-old victim into a friendship, promising him introductions to scouts and trainers. The alleged victim told jurors Tuesday that the hope of those introductions led him to allow Harris twice to perform a sex act on him, and eventually direct him to engage in lewd acts on camera while a pornographic movie played in the background.
Another alleged victim said she was just 14 when she and her 16-year-old boyfriend, a boy she described as Harris’ godson, were having sex at Harris’ house and discovered Harris was taping them.
In closing arguments this morning, Harris’ defense attorney Chris Haddad admitted that Harris “snuck up” on the two teens having sex but said his actions did not constitute promoting the sexual performance of a child — with which he was charged. He told jurors that if they were in a court of morality or ethics their decision would be easy.
“But we’re in a court of law,” Haddad continued. “It’s a question of whether or not these charges have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and I would say that they have not.”
Haddad told jurors they should disregard the male victim’s testimony because he lied to investigators, telling them at one point that Harris had introduced him to a trainer when he testified on the stand that it never happened.
The boy testified that he lied about it initially because he was embarrassed about his encounters with Harris, something prosecutors Chrichet Mixon and Michael Kugler reiterated to jurors.
Mixon also repeated the word of defense witness Clarence Young, a Belle Glade barber who discovered the tape of the 15-year old and of the two teens having sex on a camcorder someone tried to sell him shortly before Harris’ April 2009 arrest.
“The defense brought up how he said he was trying to sink Mr. Harris or how he was trying to bury him, but Mr. Young told you it was about justice,” Mixon said. “It was about getting justice for these young people whose innocence had been taken.”
Harris is facing three counts of promoting sexual performance by a child, and one count each of showing obscene material to a minor, lewd and lascivious battery, lewd and lascivious conduct and unlawful sexual activity with a minor.
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