Harris guilty of killing fiancee He had claimed she was shot during robbery attempt

April 02, 1997|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Police said they never saw Robert Dwayne Harris cry, even when he was bleeding from the leg, feet away from the body of his dead fiancee. Convicted of her murder yesterday, the Pasadena man sat without a tear in his eye. He merely shook his head.

Jurors in the weeklong trial in Baltimore Circuit Court said they had found Harris, 24, guilty of first-degree murder in the shooting of Teresa Lynn McLeod, the woman he was to marry. She died Jan. 26, 1996, from five gunshot wounds to the back in a secluded parking lot in the Southwest Baltimore neighborhood of Violetville, where prosecutors said a hit man hired by Harris lay in wait.

McLeod's mother, Barbara Arthur, her brother Ronald Arthur, and a row full of McLeod's family and friends let out a joyous whoop that was promptly silenced by a sheriff's deputy. They sat weeping and hugging each other as the jury read its other verdicts: guilty of solicitation, conspiracy and using a handgun to commit a crime of violence.

Minutes earlier, Barbara Arthur fingered a picture of McLeod pinned to her lapel and whispered: "She's watching."

Prosecutor Ahmet Hisim will seek a term of life without parole when Harris is sentenced May 15.

Russell Raymond Brill, the hit man who received a sentence of 50 years after pleading guilty to murder in the case, testified that Harris hired him to kill McLeod, who was 27, for insurance money he believed would go to him if she died. In fact, the beneficiaries of McLeod's policies were her mother and her son, Ricky, 11.

Brill said that he was supposed to shoot McLeod during a staged robbery, but when McLeod began to plead for her life, he couldn't go through with it. That's when Harris grabbed the gun and shot her, Brill said.

Harris testified during the trial that he had nothing to do with McLeod's death. He said Brill had robbed and shot the couple rather than pay $425 for a gun Harris was selling him -- the gun that was used in the slaying. That night, however, he told police he had been shot by a black man wearing a camouflage jacket and black and white pants.

Harris' parents and sisters, who testified for him at the trial, left the courthouse quickly without commenting. Harris' lawyer, Rodney Gaston, said they were in "complete bewilderment that the jury could have found him guilty. They were really numb."

Gaston said that while Harris may have appeared impassive at the verdict, he was devastated -- as was Gaston. "What has happened is that now an innocent man saw his fiancee being murdered before his eyes, and now he's got to go to jail for that," the lawyer said.

Jurors deliberated for nearly six hours over two days before delivering their verdicts.

Two jurors said yesterday the only sticking point was to what extent Harris had actually participated in the scheme -- whether he fired the gun that killed McLeod, as Brill testified, or not.

"We were debating on, did he actually fire the gun?" said Donnie Del-Rio, 46, an assistant manager for food services at Towson State University.

"We wanted to make sure everybody was comfortable," said Del-Rio. "We said we wanted to pray on it. We didn't want to rush through it. Ms. McLeod's life has stopped. Mr. Harris' life has also stopped." After the verdicts were read, Barbara and Ronald Arthur stood tearfully outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse.

"He's guilty, but it's never going to change the fact that she's gone," Ronald Arthur said.

Barbara Arthur paused, thinking about the worst part of a wrenching trial. "The thought, when they said that she was down on her knees and begging for her life, that really tears me up," she said. "Because Teresa never begged for anything."

Pub Date: 4/02/97

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