Suit blaming Harrison in death of wife may proceed, judge says Body found a year ago

sons seek $17 million

December 05, 1997|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,SUN STAFF

A Baltimore County judge has ruled that a $17 million civil suit blaming James J. Harrison Jr. in the death of his estranged wife can go forward, despite an unfinished criminal investigation and no arrest since Susan Hurley Harrison's body was found a year ago.

Circuit Judge Edward A. DeWaters Jr. said a lengthy postponement of the suit filed by Mrs. Harrison's two grown sons could weaken the case because "witnesses may disappear, memories fail and sheer passage of time attenuates the case's importance in the eyes of the public, six of whom will be jurors in the case."

Lawyers for Harrison had argued that evidence brought out in a pretrial deposition in the civil case could be used against their client if he is indicted in the killing of his wife.

Harrison, a retired chief financial officer of McCormick & Co., has acknowledged that he is the prime suspect in the death of his estranged wife, a Ruxton resident who disappeared in 1994 and whose body was found a year ago in a wooded area of Frederick County. He has denied killing her.

The suit, which also alleges a history of domestic abuse by Mr. Harrison against his wife, was filed in July by Jonathan Hawkes Owsley and Nicholas Barrett Owsley, Mrs. Harrison's sons from a previous marriage, who live in Boston.

DeWaters' ruling, made Wednesday, is "very positive for the family to have an opportunity to move forward," said their lawyer, C. Carey Deeley Jr.

A delay in the civil suit "would have continued the horrendous cloud on [the sons] and the other family members," he said.

No date has been set to hear the case.

Yesterday, Mr. Harrison's law-

yer, Steven A. Allen, said he continues to object to the civil suit proceeding with a deposition from Mr. Harrison.

He said he is concerned that "the state would take wholly innocent comments and statements by Mr. Harrison out of context and try to use them against him in a criminal case. We continue to be concerned that the family will use the vehicle of the civil case to help the state do that."

Pub Date: 12/05/97

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