JEFFERSON PARISH, LA (WVUE) - A Marrero man who twice used his SUV to hit his ex-girlfriend's 61-year-old mother was convicted Friday night of aggravated second-degree battery.
Earl K. Harris, 42, faces up to 15 years in prison for the incident on Sept. 11, 2015. Prosecutors said he knocked the woman to the ground during the first strike and ran over her leg on the second pass as she walked in the 1100 block of Clydesbank Drive in the Scotsdale neighborhood.
The woman, who now uses a cane and requires more surgery, was returning to her home after walking to a cousin's home to borrow diapers for one of her grandchildren. She and a friend were walking back to her home when she noticed the bright lights and loud engine of an SUV coming up from behind them.
"It was coming fast," she testified Friday.
She testified that the SUV struck her, and its driver circled around across lawns and ran the vehicle over her left leg. He circled around for a third pass, and that's when she recognized the driver, Harris, looking at her through the passenger-side window.
"He looked over at me on the ground and smiled," she testified.
The victim's friend and a nearby resident called 911, and the jury heard recordings of the calls in which the victim is heard wailing in pain – and identifying Harris as the driver who injured her.
"Earl Keith Harris. Please, he's coming back," she told the 911 operator. "I need to go to the hospital. Please, please."
Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office Deputy Justin McLin testified that he arrived to find the woman lying partially in the street.
"She was screaming for help," he testified, adding that there were fresh tire marks on the grassy lawns on both sides of Clydesbank, showing Harris' path.
The victim was rushed to Ochsner's West Bank emergency room, where the treating physician, Dr. Elizabeth Skeins, noted one of the woman's tibia bones was "broken into several pieces," she testified. The injury required immediate surgery, Skeins testified.
Harris denied he was the driver, and his public defender suggested that the morphine and hydromorphone the victim was given by paramedics and hospital staff had affected her memory. The defense also argued that the area of Clydesbank was poorly lit at night, calling into question whether the victim could see who was driving.
From the witness stand, she stood by the identification.
"He know[s] he hit me, and I know he hit me," she insisted during cross-examination.
The district attorney's office said Harris made an apparent attempt to derail his trial on Thursday, suddenly standing up from his seat at the defense table and untucking his dress to reveal a shock belt that Sheriff's Office jailers had placed on him. The DA said shock belts sometimes are hidden under the clothing of defendants whom authorities suspect might act violently in court. They can be activated remotely by a nearby deputy.
Harris said the belt was "burning" him, and the incident, which jurors witnessed, led the defense attorney to request a mistrial. The Sheriff's Office noted that the belt was not activated and its battery back was "cool to the touch," suggesting the security feature had not malfunctioned.
Citing the potential life sentence in prison Harris could receive as a habitual offender with convictions for armed robbery and narcotics offenses, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court granted the mistrial request.
"The court does not want to grant a mistrial, because the court is of the opinion the defendant was acting out. But out of an abundance of caution, the court is going to grant a mistrial," Regan said Thursday.
He stayed the trial to allow prosecutors to file an immediate appeal. The state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal reversed the mistrial decision Friday and ordered the trial to resume. In their appeal, prosecutors asserted that Harris attempted to "short-circuit" his own trial by revealing the shock belt to the jury.
Regan is scheduled to hand down the sentence on Sept. 16. The jury deliberated for more than two-and-a-half hours before delivering the verdict after 7:30 p.m.