LINCOLN — The sympathies Logan County residents still hold for a Beason family slain three years ago in their Beason home make it impossible for one of the men accused of their deaths to obtain a fair trial, according to a motion filed Monday by his lawyer.
Christopher Harris is asking a judge to move his April 29 murder trial outside the county where Ruth and Rick Gee and three of their children were found beaten to death in September 2009. Harris, 33, and his brother, Jason Harris, 25, both of Armington, each are charged with more than 50 counts of murder and the attempted murder of a sixth victim, a young girl who survived.
Almost half of the 450 adults surveyed for the defense in June 2011 said they believed Chris Harris is guilty, said defense lawyer Dan Fultz in his request for a change of venue. Nine out of 10 residents surveyed said they were aware of the homicides, and 20 percent of those who knew of the case were acquainted with the Gee or Harris family.
The defense team also must cope with the outpouring of support and sympathy expressed after the deaths by community members who donated to memorial funds used to cover funeral expenses and renovations of a Bea-son park in honor of the slain children, Justina Constant, Dillen Constant and Austin Gee, said Fultz.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the donors may be unwilling to give fair consideration to a defense theory that Chris Harris walked in on a bloody melee perpetrated by Dillen Constant on the family. Har-ris is claiming he killed Dillen in self-defense.
“It cannot be ignored that those contributors are likely to be deeply offended by the assertion by Christopher Harris that Dillen Constant killed his own family,” said the motion.
The wide reach of news coverage — through print, television, radio and online sources— has created an insur-mountable bias against the defendant, the defense argued.
Fultz said one option exists: “The only way to overcome the extensive coverage in this case is to transfer it to a county where exposure to such coverage has been limited, regardless of potential jurors’ assertions of impartial-ity.”
The media reports have created conversations — some based on fact, others on fiction — in the close-knit community that suffered the first quintuple homicide in its history, the defense noted.
“Many of those rumors are mean-spirited, while others are pure gossip; however, they have been repeated so often that they have taken on an air of truth in many people’s minds,” said Fultz.
Judge Thomas Harris, no relation to the defendants, set a Jan. 14 hearing on the change of venue request.