PEORIA — Jurors weighing murder charges against Chris Harris now have two versions of how a Beason family may have died: the self-defense claim laid out in testimony Friday by Harris himself and the prosecution version of a killer described in testimony last week from his brother.
Chris Harris said he went to the home of his former in-laws Rick and Ruth Gee on Sept. 21, 2009, looking for marijuana. He said he wanted it to counter the high he and his brother, Jason, experienced after doing cocaine while driving the back roads of Logan County.
During his 2½ hours on the witness stand Harris denied his brother’s allegation that he wanted sex with 16-year-old victim Justina Constant.
“Absolutely not — because she was family and she’s a 16-year-old girl. She had disabilities,” Harris said during questioning from defense lawyer Daniel Fultz.
Harris also rejected his brother’s claim that he tucked a tire iron up his sleeve as he headed to the house. “Why would I?” he said.
The defendant said that once he was inside the Gees’ Beason home, he saw Rick Gee lying face down in the hallway. A few steps farther, Harris saw a badly injured Ruth Gee on the floor, leaning against a dresser, he said.
A short distance from her in a bathroom was Austin Gee, 11, said Harris.
“Austin was looking at me, lying on the floor. There was blood everywhere. He was breathing heavy, moving his arms around and looking at me,” Harris testified.
Harris said he shifted his focus from the carnage surrounding the three victims when Dillen Constant, 14, came into the bedroom with a knife.
Dillen “had a big, long knife in his hand,” said Harris, adding that the youth did not respond when he said, “Dillen, it’s Chris. What happened?”
He said hand-to-hand combat started after he picked up a tire iron he found on the floor near Rick Gee.
“I hit him with it because he was trying to hit me with the knife,” said Harris.
Harris, 34, said he followed Dillen outside and hit him several more times with the tool. Harris went back inside and saw Justina “on her bed face down with blood dripping off her head,” he said.
When asked why he didn’t report the killings, an emotional Harris said, “Because I didn’t want to have to explain anything.”
Jason Harris told the jury that his brother confessed to him that he killed the family after Dillen found him talking to Justina while armed with the tire iron.
On Friday, Logan County Assistant State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright confronted Chris Harris about how he caused a blister on the palm of his hand — an injury Harris said was the result of his work as a cook at Steak n’ Shake.
Harris has previously made statements that the injury came from cutting brush the day before the killings.
But it was Wright’s persistent attack on Harris’ pattern of lying to police in the days after the slayings that raised questions about the defendant’s version of events. Wright pointed out at least six examples where Harris denied being in the house and having any knowledge of what took place.
“You’re not only telling a lie, you’re managing this thing … you played dumb and did a good job,” Wright said of Harris’ meetings with police.
Harris admitted to Wright that he convinced his brother to help him cover up the incident by disposing of evidence, including his bloody clothing, shoes and the tire iron. Harris was arrested after police confirmed his bloody palm print at the scene.
Wright also went after Harris for his activities after the murders, showing the jury a photo of a smiling Harris with a woman he met for sex hours after the bodies were found.
“I blocked it all out,” Harris said of the rendezvous.
The prosecutor pointed out that Harris’ failure to notify authorities of the deaths opened the possibility that his ex-wife Nicole Gee and his young daughter could have made the grisly discovery.
“I made some huge mistakes,” said Harris.
The trial continues Tuesday with additional defense testimony.