Harris denies arranging fiancee's death Defendant says woman was killed by a robber

March 28, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Robert Dwayne Harris, on trial in the murder of his fiancee in a secluded Violetville parking lot, told a Baltimore jury yesterday that he did not hire a hit man to kill Teresa Lynn McLeod but stood by "scared to death" while she was shot by a robber.

Wearing a gray suit and blue shirt, Harris, 24, spoke dispassionately during most of his 2 1/2 hours on the stand. On a couple of occasions, he appeared to tear up as he spoke about his fiancee and dabbed at his eyes with a tissue.

"I was a mess, I was crying," he told the jury, describing how he reacted when he heard McLeod had died. "Still today, it's hard to believe she's actually gone. Teresa said that she'd always be there."

He called the testimony of Russell Raymond Brill, who told the jury Harris hired him for $20,000 to kill McLeod so he could benefit from insurance policies, "an absolute lie."

"I didn't make no deal with Mr. Brill to kill nobody," Harris said.

McLeod, 27, was shot six times Jan. 26, 1996, in the parking lot on Joh Avenue in Violetville, a Southwest Baltimore neighborhood. Brill, who has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and been sentenced to 50 years in prison, has testified that Harris shot McLeod when Brill could not.

Fearing Harris, Brill said he shot Harris in the left thigh and fled to make the incident look like a robbery.

That night and the next day, Harris told police he and McLeod had been robbed and shot by a black man wearing a camouflage jacket and black-and-white pants. Brill is white.

Harris is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy, solicitation to commit murder and use of a handgun in a felony.

Yesterday, prosecutor Ahmet Hisim played a tape of the 911 call Harris made from his cellular phone shortly after the shooting. "I need the police. I've been shot," Harris cried. He cursed repeatedly at the dispatcher when she asked him where he was. It took him 4 1/2 minutes to mention McLeod.

On the tape, Harris said he did not know exactly where he was, but at one point he began giving the operator detailed directions.

Harris said he and McLeod were supposed to meet Brill at the parking lot to collect $425 Brill owed Harris for a Glock 9 mm pistol Harris had given him the previous day. He said Brill suggested the parking lot as a meeting place. Harris and McLeod planned to meet Brill on their way to dinner at a nearby restaurant.

After they had waited for Brill for about 10 minutes, Harris testified, a "figure" approached the passenger's side of the car with a gun and ordered Harris out of the driver's side. He said he didn't see the man's face and did not recognize him as Brill.

Harris said he handed over $375 -- a fact he later admitted he did not tell police. Then, he said, McLeod got out of the car and handed over her purse. "At that point, there was some kind of action going on between her and the gunman," Harris said. "I didn't see too well. Then I heard a pop, pop."

He said McLeod ran by and disappeared, with the gunman running after. Then, he said, the gunman fired at him twice and fled. "I thought I was going to die," Harris said.

Explaining why he had not checked on McLeod or mentioned her to a resident who happened upon the scene afterward, Harris said, "I don't know what I thought. I guess I hoped that she had gotten away."

In a lengthy cross-examination that is to continue when the trial resumes Monday, Hisim hammered away at inconsistencies in Harris' story. He asked why, if Harris thought McLeod had escaped, he told the 911 dispatcher that his girlfriend had been shot.

Hisim also asked why Harris neglected to tell police detectives that he and McLeod were supposed to meet Brill that night. Instead, Harris told Detective Darryl Massey that he had sold the Glock to a "friend of his friend Mimi."

"At the time, I could not remember Russell's name," Harris replied. He said he never had the chance to give the name because Massey began asking questions that had nothing to do with what had really happened that night.

Harris also said that as he lay on the ground bleeding from the leg, he could not summon the strength to look around the car and see where his fiancee might be. "I guess I could have. I don't know if I did or I didn't," Harris said. "At that time, I did not know what to think."

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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