PEORIA — The fears Ruth Gee may have passed onto her son’s doctor about his behavior will be barred from a jury in the murder trial of the man accused of killing Gee, her son and three other family members in 2009 in their Beason home.
Judge Scott Drazewski ruled during the opening day of the Chris Harris murder trial that statements made by Ruth Gee about the 14-year-old boy’s alleged violent demeanor occurred two years in advance of the killings, making them too remote to be relevant.
Harris, 34 and his brother Jason, 26, both of Armington, both face more than 50 murder charges in the beating deaths of Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children: Justina Constant, 16; Dillen Constant, 14, and Austin Gee, 11. A third child was severely injured but survived.
Lawyers for Chris Harris intend to argue their client, who was once married to Rick Gee’s daughter Nicole, killed Dillen in self-defense after Harris interrupted a killing spree by the teen inside the house.
The Harris brothers, intoxicated and under the influence of drugs, stopped at the home in search of marijuana, according to court records.
Defense lawyer Stephanie Hammer said the statement from Ruth Gee that her son was violent “reflects her fear that he was going to severely hurt himself or another person.”
Assistant State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright opposed the defense effort to allow the jury to hear the statement. He said a state investigator heard the statement last week in an interview with Rick Gee’s mother, Judi Stodgell of Lincoln, who attributed the remark to Rick Gee.
“Rick told her if they didn’t get Dillen under control they were all going to wake up dead one day,” said Wright.
Stodgell didn’t take the statement as an indication that Dillen was planning to harm his family, said Wright.
Drazewski ruled that the statement contained no direct threats and was made in 2007, two years before the incident.
If the statement comes up in the testimony of other witnesses, a determination will be made as to its relevance.
The judge also turned down a defense request to show a small selection of crime scene photos to potential jurors when they are questioned later this week.
“Words cannot describe how graphic and horrible these photos are,” said defense lawyer Daniel Fultz, arguing that some people may not be able to view the severe trauma suffered by the victims.
Drazewski agreed with prosecutors that legal precedent is lacking for such a move; he agreed to give lawyers some leeway in their questioning of jurors to address the violence issue.
Before would-be jurors start the selection process Tuesday by completing a lengthy survey, the state is expected to give its decision on which charges it will dismiss against Harris, a procedural move to summarize its case that includes 77 charges — 59 of them first-degree murder. The multiple murder counts involving the five victims repeat the same allegations with small legal distinctions.
Lawyers with the Illinois attorney general’s office who are assisting Logan County with the case were unsuccessful in convincing the judge to reverse his ruling Friday to allow a psychologist to testify on violent video games and their potential to lead minors to violent behavior. The expert will be allowed to discuss the risk factors he identified in Dillen Constant to act violently, but he may not given an opinion as to whether its likely the youth committed the trauma that killed his family.
Assistant Attorney General Steve Nate argued that the jury may consider the psychologist’s testimony to be such an opinion.
“We know risk factors can’t be used to predict violence in individuals,” said Nate.
Starting Wednesday, jurors will be brought into the courtroom individual for questioning, a process that could take at least three days. Four alternates will be chosen in addition to the 12 main jurors.