James Richard Harris, Belle Glade pastor found guilty, swallowed mints, not pills, test shows

Officials thought it was courtroom suicide attempt

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — All the tablets a Belle Glade pastor swallowed in court were strong enough to do was sweeten his breath on his way to jail.

The Rev. James Richard Harris downed a handful of breath mints Thursday in what people in the courtroom thought was a suicide attempt after a jury had convicted him of molesting a 15-year-old boy and videotaping several teens having sex, a Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office toxicology report revealed Monday.

Harris looked barely conscious as paramedics ushered him to the elevator on a gurney. The 64-year-old refused to tell deputies what kind of pills he had tried to swallow — but he promised them he would be dead by nightfall.

On Monday, Harris was still alive and still in jail, facing an 80-year prison sentence. Then the toxicology screen on the tablets came back.

"Yes, mints," prosecutor Chrichet Mixon said Monday, confirming the results. "My initial reaction was the same as the one I had at the time this happened: Nothing this man does surprises me."

The revelation Monday adds the latest twist to the bizarre case of the one-time community leader, whose trial last week exposed what Mixon and fellow prosecutor Michael Kugler called a predatory scheme in which Harris cajoled a teenage football player into allowing him to perform sex acts on him in exchange for helping him become a football star.

Rumors that Harris had molested several boys connected to the Glades Central High school football program have been circulating for decades, but authorities didn't arrest him until 2009, when a videotape of teens having sex surfaced on a camcorder allegedly stolen from Harris' house.

Harris had remained free on bond until jurors convicted him last week. Although he appeared to take the verdict without emotion, he pulled the pills out of his pocket and tried to swallow them the moment Circuit Judge John Kastrenakes ordered him taken to jail until his Oct. 5 sentencing.

Harris was on high suicide watch at the Palm Beach County jail over the weekend, but Mixon on Monday evening wasn't sure whether that provision had been lifted. Mixon said the fact that the pills turned out to be mints made her feel that Harris made a mockery of the criminal justice process.

"It just goes to show that he always has an ulterior motive," she said. "He clearly had an ulterior motive when he befriended those children, and he had a motive for doing what he did in the courtroom."

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