LINCOLN — Prosecutors are expected to file their intention to seek the death penalty Friday against two brothers accused in the brutal deaths of five members of a Beason family.
Christopher J. Harris, 31, and Jason L. Harris, 23, each face more than 50 counts of first-degree murder in the September 2009 deaths of Ruth and Rick Gee and three of their children. The parents and Justina Constant, 16, Dillen Constant, 14, and Austin Gee, 11, were found beaten to death in their home.
The Armington brothers also are charged with the attempted murder of Tabitha Gee, who was 3 at the time of the attack. She also was beaten but survived.
Other charges in the case are home invasion, residential burglary and the attempted criminal sexual assault of Justina Gee.
The state has little choice but to treat the Harris cases as capital offenses even though Illinois lawmakers approved measures last month to abolish the death penalty, Logan County State’s Attorney Michael McIntosh said Thursday. The legislation to outlaw the death penalty is awaiting the signature of Gov. Pat Quinn.
“It’s a strange dance we’re in, having the sword of Damocles hanging over the death penalty, but I have to go by what the law is now,” McIntosh told The Pantagraph.
The prosecutor acknowledged that the resources allocated to the Gee case already have followed state guidelines for a capital case. The paperwork seeking death as a possible sentence against the Harrises if they are convicted makes the determination official, he said.
“This has been treated like a death penalty case since the beginning,” said McIntosh.
Stephanie Wong, who along with Steve Skelton represents Jason Harris, said the move to seek the death penalty “will not change our strategy or how we move forward.”
Each defendant has been assigned two defense attorneys certified to handle capital cases and investigators to assist them. The state Capital Litigation Trust Fund pays those expenses because it is potentially a death-penalty case.
It is unclear, said McIntosh, what would happen to that state funding if the death penalty is abolished. McIntosh and other Logan County officials worry that the county would have to shoulder those costs.
“We just don’t have the money,” said McIntosh.
A similar scenario occurred in a 2003 DeWitt County case after the state took the death penalty off the table in the Amanda Hamm case. The mother of three was convicted of child endangerment in the death of her children, and her boyfriend Maurice LaGrone was convicted of murder.
The state fund paid about $1.6 million in defense and prosecution costs for the two trials, but DeWitt County paid more than $160,000 in legal fees after Hamm was no longer eligible for the death penalty. Skelton served as Hamm’s only attorney after his co-counsel was removed following the state’s death penalty decision.
The decision to seek death as a sentencing option against the Harris brothers was delayed until the state received results of DNA testing on some of the evidence. McIntosh declined to discuss the test results but said several elements of the charges support the death penalty, including the number and age of the victims.
The Illinois attorney general’s office is assisting McIntosh with the cases. Chris Harris is represented by James Elmore, Robert Callahan and Tim Timoney.
Obstruction of justice charges related to the deaths are pending against two women. Jason Harris’ former girlfriend Jennifer Earnest and her mother, Sara Duncan, are accused of providing Chris Harris with a false alibi.