PEORIA — The chronology of the Gee family slayings — complete with grisly photos of the five slain victims — was laid out in a Peoria courtroom Wednesday after jurors learned the brother of defendant Chris Harris has been offered a plea deal.
Chris and Jason Harris, both of Armington, are accused of killing Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children in the family’s Beason home in September 2009.
In opening statements, prosecutor Jonathan Wright said Jason Harris’ testimony will quote his brother, who alleged said as the two drove back to Armington: “I (expletive) up and I killed them all … I didn’t want to leave any witnesses.”
Wright said Jason Harris has been offered a plea deal for a 20-year sentence on charges of concealment of a homicide, unlawful delivery of a controlled substance and obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony in his brother’s trial. Murder charges would be dismissed against him.
Jason Harris will testify that he and his brother went to the Gees in search of marijuana after a night of drinking and cocaine use, said Wright.
“He (Jason Harris) is not likeable. He stood outside this residence while Chris killed five people and left a sixth for dead,” said Wright, referring to then-3-year-old Tabitha Gee, found alive but severely injured.
Chris Harris took a tire iron with him into the house where he “wanted to talk with Justina” Constant, a 16-year-old victim, said Wright.
Jason Harris told investigators he heard “thud, thud, thud, thud, thud” from inside the house and at one point saw Dillen Constant, 14, jump from a bedroom window. Chris Harris followed the teen outside and struck him multiple times with the tire iron, Wright said, swinging his arms in dramatic gestures before the jury.
Chris Harris allegedly told his brother that once he was inside the house in Justina’s room, Dillen confronted him and asked what was behind his back, looking at the tire iron.
He “smacked” Justina before going from person to person, killing Rick, Ruth and Austin Gee and finally Dillen, who was “hardest to kill because he had a knife,” Wright said in his preview of Jason Harris’ story.
Defense lawyer Peter Naylor said in opening remarks that Chris Harris was forced to kill Dillen in self-defense after he walked in on a killing spree by the youth.
“He walked in on a horror no one can imagine,” said Naylor.
Chris Harris will admit he was in the house and that his DNA will be in a bloody palm print, said Naylor. The suspect’s decision to throw away his shoes, the tire iron and the laptop computer he took from the Gees as he fled the scene was “done in a moment of panic,” said Naylor.
“He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to explain it. Chris didn’t know, we will never know, if Dillen was the aggressor,” said Naylor.
The graphic photos showed to jurors stirred strong reactions. Judy Stogdell, Rick Gee’s mother, gasped when the photos were displayed on a screen in the courtroom. She was called as the state’s first witness, identifying the victims in family photos and sharing details of the call she received about the deaths from her granddaughter, Nicole Gee.
“They’re gone ... they’re all just gone. They’re dead," Stogdell said she was told.
Dillen’s father, Gerald Miller, and his family were among the spectators who filled the small courtroom. He said there is no way to prepare for an experience like the Harris trial.
“It’s bad,” said Miller.
The trial testimony and gruesome evidence may be taking its toll on jurors who also struggled Wednesday to look at the photos of the victims. At least one juror cried when photos were displayed.
Judge Scott Drazewski offered jurors a break if the evidence becomes too difficult.