Mother of boy killed in July is charged with endangerment

October 06, 2006|By Julie Bykowicz and Kelly Brewington | Julie Bykowicz and Kelly Brewington,Sun reporters

At Irvin's funeral this summer, mourners blew kisses to show support for a mother whose 11-year-old had been stabbed to death near the family's Northeast Baltimore home.

But many in the community were outraged that Shanda Raynette Harris had allowed Melvin Lorenzo Jones Jr., the registered sex offender accused of killing Irvin, to baby-sit and befriend her young children.

Yesterday, Harris, 41, was arrested at her home on Lawnview Avenue, a place where there's a wooden sign emblazoned with the words "RIP Irvin." Harris is charged with reckless endangerment and four counts of a charge that prosecutors liken to criminal neglect.

Leon Henry, director of the Maryland Children's Action Network, said Harris' arrest could divide the community. "Some may think, `It's about time.' Others may feel like it's piling on, because she lost a son."

Days after Jones, 52, was charged with first-degree murder in Irvin's death, city prosecutors, police and social workers began investigating what, if anything, Harris did to protect her children from a man twice convicted of molesting children.

Bail for Harris was set at $100,000 last night by a District Court commissioner, who included an order that she have no unsupervised contact with three surviving minor children should she be released, according to Marty Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office. A bail review hearing is expected today before a District Court judge.

Social workers picked up Harris' young children after school yesterday, according to a relative. Harris is the mother of seven children, ages 9 to 25, and the grandmother of half a dozen, some of whom live with her.

One daughter, Shannon Venable, 23, said her mother was surprised by the arrest even though a social worker has made frequent visits to the Harris house and warned of the possibility.

"She didn't expect nothing like that to happen to her after all she's been through," Venable said. "She just lost her son."

The statement of probable cause, written by police and prosecutors, reveals new details about the relationship between the Harris family and Jones - who told police years ago that he is a "borderline pedophile."

Several children in the household told investigators that "they saw Irvin Harris and Melvin Jones in bed together." Irvin's adult relatives have said they do not believe that Jones molested the boy.

"Jones would spend the night at their home and would sleep downstairs with Irvin and his grandmother," one child told investigators, according to the charging documents.

The charging documents indicate that Jones may have directed violence toward Irvin. On several occasions, the children told investigators, they "saw Melvin Jones shake Irvin Harris."

On July Fourth at the Inner Harbor, Jones allegedly grabbed Irvin by the throat and tried to choke him, according to Harris' charging documents and other police records.

Police were investigating that charge when Irvin disappeared July 28 as he headed off to buy a snowball near the Clifton Park Golf Course.

Witnesses saw Jones approach the boy and the two walk off together. Irvin's body was found a few days later, after Jones called one of Harris' older daughters, the daughter said. Police said Jones gave a statement "implicating himself in the crime."

Jones is scheduled for trial in January in Baltimore Circuit Court.

Harris' past interviews with The Sun show conflicted feelings about her culpability. She has angrily said that police should have done more, given Jones' criminal record. But she also has said she shouldn't have been so trusting of Jones,

"I thought that everyone could change, and I see now I was really wrong," she said the day Jones was charged.

For more than three years, Jones had ingrained himself in Harris' family - becoming, as Harris said, "like a male role model" for Irvin. Jones sat in on classes and lunches at Irvin's Collington Square School and accompanied Harris and the children to Harris' drug treatment program. She said she has long struggled with a heroin addiction.

About a year before the killing, Harris learned of at least some of Jones' troubling past: He pleaded guilty in 1990 to sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl in his family and in 2002 to having repeated sexual contact with a teenage boy.

Harris said she met Jones in the fall of 2002, when she was dating his brother. That was about the time Jones was released from prison in the 2002 case. A condition of his parole was to have no unsupervised contact with children, but he soon began baby-sitting for the Harris clan.

Harris has told The Sun that she did not allow Jones to be alone with her children after learning of his sex offender status. But charging documents in her case contradict that assertion.

At least two adults, the documents state, told Harris that Jones was a registered sex offender a year or more before Irvin was killed. A social worker at her drug treatment program showed Harris Jones' photograph from the state sex offender registry, the documents state.

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