PEORIA— After 12 days of testimony from almost 50 witnesses, the state may be ready to conclude its case Friday against Chris Harris, opening the door for the defendant to tell his account of what happened the night the Gee family was slain in their Beason home.
Logan County State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright said Thursday the prosecution team planned to review its evidence and witness list and be ready Friday to say if the state will rest its case.
The state’s final witness was a forensic pathologist who described the trauma suffered by the Gees: skulls collapsed like eggshells; hands blackened by bruising; faces indistinguishable after crushing blows too numerous to count.
During the testimony of Dr. John Ralston, Harris shielded his eyes from autopsy photos displayed on a screen behind the defense table. Several jurors winced and two appeared to cry as the 27 graphic photos were shown.
Defense lawyer Daniel Fultz asked for a break for jurors after he noticed the distress.
The photos showed in gruesome detail the multiple blows caused by a heavy object that could have been a tire iron, said Ralston. All five victims had extensive wounds to their heads that overlapped so closely that it was impossible “to tell where one started and the other ended,” said the doctor.
Rick Gee and his stepson Dillen Constant had the most injuries, including severe wounds on their hands, according to the medical report.
The 14-year-old had at least 52 individual blows and had lost most of the blood in his body. Gee had more than 13 head wounds so severe that bone fragments were driven into his brain, said Ralston.
The injuries “were inflicted over and over again, so it’s hard to tell how many wounds were inflicted,” said the doctor.
Prosecutor Michael Atterberry made the point in his questions to Ralston that the fatal injuries of all five victims shared common traits, including the likelihood that they were inflicted with the same heavy, blunt object.
Fultz highlighted the fact that Gee and Dillen both had knife wounds — a point that Harris is likely to talk about when he offers his self-defense claim. Harris says he was forced to kill the 14-year-old, who allegedly was wielding a knife when Harris came into the house in the midst of a killing spree by the youth.
When asked if Dillen could have inflicted the injuries, Ralston said “Anybody of sufficient height and weight with the right tool would be capable of inflicting these kinds of injuries.”
The jury also heard from a former cellmate of Harris, convicted child killer Ty Cline, who testified that Harris confessed to him that he had murdered the Gee family.
“He said that he’d killed everybody,” Cline said of his talk one night with Harris in the cell the two shared at the Logan County jail in 2011.
Cline told the jury he was interviewed by detectives after he was sentenced to 30 years in prison in January 2012. Cline quoted Harris as saying he engaged in “hand-to-hand combat” with Gee in the foyer of the house after he and his brother Jason Harris went to the Gee home “just a place to go, a place to land.”
The defense contends Cline was repeating information given to him by his former defense lawyer, Tim Timoney, as part of the discovery process where lawyers exchange the evidence they have gathered.
Harris picked up a tire iron outside the house and struck Gee with it, said Cline, and went on to kill Dillen, who was armed with a knife, and then the other members of the family.
The normally soft-spoken Fultz raised his voice in his examination of Cline, suggesting that a cooperative agreement between Cline and the state for better prison accommodations was behind the testimony. Cline admitted that he was moved two weeks ago from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security one. The transfer that is normally outside the state’s guidelines for convicted murderers came before Cline signed the cooperative agreement, Fultz noted.