PEORIA — At a hearing that delayed proceedings in his murder trial Monday, Chris Harris took the witness stand for an hour to answer questions about his final interrogation before his arrest in the 2009 death of a Beason family in their home.
Defense lawyer Daniel Fultz filed a motion, which he later dismissed, to bar the jury from watching a video of the Oct. 1, 2009, interview conducted nine days after Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children were found slain, beaten by a tire iron, authorities believe.
One word in Friday’s testimony from former Illinois State Police Special Agent Mike Jennings triggered the motion to suppress, Fultz told Judge Scott Drazewski at the start of proceedings held without jurors, who were told to stay home.
Fultz said Jennings’ testimony that police were following Harris and family members to bring them into “custody” on Oct. 1, 2009, was a red flag for a possible legal challenge. Harris came to the Logan County jail with his ex-wife Nicole Gee, who was Rick Gee’s daughter, for what he believed was a trip to retrieve clothing confiscated earlier by police.
Harris arrived at the jail but left because he was late for an appointment — only to be followed back to the facility by men in two unmarked cars, he said, who walked into the jail behind him. During the second trip to the jail, Jennings and two other detectives escorted him to an interview where they asked him if was willing to talk.
After Harris told police he had talked with an attorney who advised him not to answer more questions, Jennings “said you’re not under arrest. We just want you to cooperate,” Harris said Monday.
During the exchange with officers, police shared the fact that they had a bloody palm print from the Gee house that matched Harris, then considered a serious suspect.
“I felt like if I didn’t answer their questions, they wouldn’t let me leave. When the interview was over, I was handcuffed,” Harris told Drazewski in his testimony that was limited Monday to specific questions about the single interview.
The defense dropped its motion to suppress after Jennings came back to the witness stand Monday and recanted the word that caused the stir. Using the term — “custody” — “was an error on my part,” said Jennings.
When asked by Fultz if he felt pressured to explain his statement, Jennings said, “I feel a lot of pressure because of the magnitude of this case. I would feel bad if this were to be suppressed based on a word … that would be a sad state of affairs,” said Jennings.
The defense accepted Jennings’ clarification and dismissed its motion.
The jury returns Tuesday to watch an edited version of the October interview. The trial is expected to wrap up next week.