BEASON — Chris Harris’ conviction Friday in the brutal slaying of a Beason family cleared the name of 14-year-old victim Dillen Constant, and, many hope, furthered the process of healing for the families and the people of the small town in Logan County.
Harris, 34, of Armington was convicted of murder Friday in the Sept. 21, 2009, deaths of Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children and attempted murder of another child. The defense argued that Harris came upon the scene while Dillen was killing his family members and that Harris killed Dillen in self-defense. The jury rejected that claim.
“When I heard the verdict, I felt Dillen was vindicated, that he was really the hero for the family that night,” Logan County Sheriff Steve Nichols said. “I hope it can provide a little closure to the Constant family for all they’ve gone through these past few months.”
Members of the Harris and Gee families left the courthouse in Peoria without making statements after the verdicts. Two rows of the courtroom were crowded Friday with relatives of the victims who commented earlier that they would be happy when a decision was returned.
Dillen’s stepmother, Terry Miller, handed out photos of the boy to reporters after the verdicts.
“We wanted our son’s name cleared and that was done,” she said.
The Rev. Dayle Badman, pastor of Beason United Methodist Church, conducted a memorial service for the victims shortly after the killings. She knows her community has lived with the memories of the crime for the last 3½ years.
“That’s good news,” she said when told of the verdicts. “I think it will hopefully, finally, begin to provide some closure for the community.”
Although she welcomed the verdict, Badman said: “It won’t bring the family back. It won’t bring the children back.”
Logan County Coroner Robert Thomas called the murders “a tragedy for Logan County.”
He said, “I think Mr. Harris had due process of law and I wish him the best and I wish the whole family the best.”
The nature of the victims and where the murders happened made the case even worse to some.
“It’s a difficult thing to have something of this magnitude any place. But I think it’s exacerbated in a small town,” Badman said. “They knew everybody.”
Nichols said, “Any crime scene with a loss of life is hard on a person,” but that especially true when young people as victims.
“You never get used to it. You always question how this could happen,” Nichols said. “It’s a part of the job you don’t like, but you’ve got to do it because if you don’t do it, justice isn’t served.”
Badman said she hopes the verdict “will help the community move forward” and that, with the trial over, something will be done with the home where the murders occurred. The home remains cordoned off as a crime scene, virtually untouched since the early days of the investigation.
Nichols said the investigation “was a great team effort between the Illinois State Police and the Logan County Sheriff’s Department. We couldn’t have done it without their assistance in many ways.”
Edith Brady-Lunny contributed to this report.