Simpson's Md. pen pal a jailhouse poet

January 31, 1995|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

The empathetic poem written by Leonard C. Harris, M.D., of Hagerstown, Md., to O.J. Simpson assures him that his "emotional" injury will heal much as a physical one does, and he will be stronger for the pain.

To which we can only say: Physician, heal thyself.

The mano a mano tone of the poem turns out to be prisoner a prisoner as well: Harris is currently serving a 29-year sentence at the Roxbury Correctional Institution, a medium-security jail in Hagerstown. The Dundalk doctor was convicted of kidnapping, housebreaking, carrying a dangerous weapon and eluding police, but charges that he raped three women in separate attacks dating back to July 1990 were dropped.

Harris' poem was among the more than 100 pieces of mail chosen by Mr. Simpson and his collaborators for use in his book, "I Want to Tell You," subtitled, "My Response to Your Letters, Your Messages, Your Questions." It arrived in bookstores Friday, as the opening week of Mr. Simpson's trial for the murder of his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman was concluding.

Mr. Simpson's collaborator on the book, Lawrence Schiller, said yesterday in a telephone interview that he didn't think it was relevant to note in the book that Harris is in prison.

"It didn't enter in our minds. We weren't trying to conceal anything," said Mr. Schiller, who interviewed Mr. Simpson in jail 10 times for the book. "We felt if he was voicing an opinion about the case, he should be identified [as a prisoner]. But this is a poem."

Mr. Schiller said the poem came at the end of one of several letters that Harris, who could not be reached yesterday, has written to Mr. Simpson. And, like all the letter writers who were chosen for the book, his permission to reprint his words was sought and received, Mr. Schiller said.

Harris is not among the letter writers whose photographs were sent to the media as part of the press kit accompanying the books. Among those photographed were an evangelical pastor from Florida, the head of an organization called "Aim Cameras; Not Guns" in New York, and a Cleveland woman who had written Mr. Simpson to say she had called police "as Nicole did," but, in truth, she was just as responsible for the "disturbance" as her former husband.

While refusing to release sales figures, the publisher, Little, Brown, says the book has exceeded expectations, and a second printing, of 100,000 copies, has been ordered to supplement the initial run of 500,000 books. Mr. Simpson reportedly received a $1 million advance for the book and will use proceeds to pay for his expensive defense.

Perhaps Harris, 40, can relate to Mr. Simpson's travails: Harris' attorney had claimed the doctor was "railroaded" and victimized by "sloppy police work," much as Mr. Simpson's "dream team" of lawyers recently argued that police rushed to judgment and mishandled evidence in their zeal to nail the former football star.

And, race has played a role in both of their cases.

Harris was charged with three rapes, of a Towson State University student in her dorm room in July 1990 and of two women in White Marsh in February and November of 1991. But a mistrial was declared in July 1992 when a Baltimore County jury became deadlocked. The Sun reported that the 11 white male jurors wanted to convict, but the lone black female juror wanted to acquit. Harris is black, but race did not figure into her decision, the female juror said.

Prosecutors then dropped the rape charges, saying they didn't want to put the victims through another trial. Harris was convicted on other charges, including kidnapping and housebreaking, and sentenced to 29 years.

Although Harris apparently still uses "M.D." after his name, the state's Board of Physician Quality Assurance permanently stripped him of his license to practice after his conviction. They cited his "crimes of moral turpitude."

THE POEM

Dear Mr. Simpson:

When an emotional injury

takes place, the mind begins

a process as natural as the

healing of a physical wound.

Let the process happen.

Know that the pain will pass

and, when it passes, you will be stronger,

happier, more sensitive and aware.

Leonard C. Harris, M.D.

Hagerstown, Md.

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