Harrison says lies told at hearing Slain wife's sons have sued, blaming him for her death

November 25, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

James J. Harrison Jr. -- blamed in a $17 million civil lawsuit for his wife's death -- disrupted a routine court hearing yesterday by accusing a lawyer for his wife's sons of telling "lies" and saying "horrible things" about him.

The lawsuit was filed in July by the two adult sons of Susan Hurley Harrison of Ruxton, who disappeared in 1994 and whose body was found a year ago in a wooded area in Frederick County. The suit also accuses Harrison of abusing his wife xTC during their five years of marriage.

Although no one has been arrested, Harrison acknowledges he is the prime suspect in the death of Mrs. Harrison, but denies he killed her.

Yesterday, Harrison, a retired chief financial officer of McCormick & Co., was in Baltimore County Circuit Court for a hearing on his plea that the lawsuit be delayed while the criminal investigation continues.

He sat expressionless for more than an hour during legal arguments by lawyers, then surprised his attorneys by standing up and accusing lawyer C. Carey Deeley Jr. of saying "lies about me. It's so sad to have such horrible things said."

Deeley represents Jonathan Hawkes Owsley and Nicholas Barrett Owsley, Mrs. Harrison's sons from a previous marriage.

Harrison's outburst prompted his three lawyers -- Arnold M. Weiner, Thomas J. Zagami and Steven A. Allen -- to quiet him.

"Sit down. I'll take care of it," whispered Allen, as Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. told Harrison, "Let your lawyers talk. That's what you pay them for."

At the close of the hearing, Harrison walked toward the judge's bench with his hand raised and asked to speak to him, saying, "This is so terrible."

Before the outburst, his lawyers had asked DeWaters to postpone the civil case until the criminal investigation is complete, arguing that evidence that might come out in a pretrial deposition in the civil case could be used against Harrison if he is indicted in his wife's killing.

Allen accused the Owsley brothers of filing the suit to put "money in their pockets. The grand jury process should not be subverted just so monetary damages can be sought."

Allen also argued that the civil suit should not be heard when the criminal investigation "is very active." He told the judge that five witnesses in the case were called last week to the Frederick County grand jury.

In an interview yesterday, Assistant Attorney General Carolyn Henneman, who is overseeing the criminal investigation, would not confirm Allen's statements about the grand jury, saying only that the case "is ongoing."

Henneman said there is no legal time limit for an investigation into a killing to be completed.

Deeley dismissed Allen's depiction of an "active" criminal investigation, saying, "I've been hearing that for 3 1/2 years."

The Owsley brothers want to "put to rest the matter of their mother's death," he said.

Delaying the civil case, the attorney added, is "prolonging the agony."

DeWaters told the lawyers he will rule later on the motion to postpone the case.

Pub Date: 11/25/97

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