PEORIA— An editing error in a videotaped interview Christopher Harris gave to police about the deaths of a Beason family allowed jurors to hear a potentially prejudicial remark and brought the trial to an early adjournment Friday afternoon.
Jurors were sent home after watching about 20 minutes of an hourlong interview of Harris by state police investigators on Sept. 30, 2009 — nine days after Rick and Ruth Gee and three of their children were found beaten to death in their Beason home.
On the recording, Harris told investigators that officers from a methamphetamine task force had recently visited the Armington home of his brother and co-defendant, Jason Harris. Chris and Jason each were charged with more than 50 counts of murder in the Gee family deaths, but Jason Harris has reached a plea deal in exchange for his testimony in his brother’s case.
Logan County State’s Attorney Jonathan Wright caught the error and asked that the video be stopped. The jury was taken from the courtroom while lawyers and Judge Scott Drazewski discussed the matter.
Defense lawyer Daniel Fultz declined to have the jury told to ignore the meth reference, saying the direction from the judge could call attention to the potentially prejudicial remark.
The recording will be edited and played for the jury Monday when the trial resumes.
In the portion of the interview viewed by jurors, Harris denied any role in the killings that included his former father-in-law, Rick Gee.
When told by now-retired Illinois State Police investigator Mike Jennings that footprints collected from the scene matched his shoes, the 34-year-old suspect responded, “I can tell you right now they’re not my footprints. I can guarantee you.”
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State police agents caught up with Harris at a Peoria hospital where he was visiting Tabitha Gee, the Gee’s 3-year-old daughter who was severely hurt in the attack. Jennings testified that he noticed the similarities between Harris’ shoes and the crime scene footprints while at the hospital.
During the interview, police also said they had identified Harris’ palm print at the scene. They admitted it could have been left during his visits to the Gee home, but it was considered potential evidence until he could be eliminated as a suspect.
On Friday, jurors were shown key physical evidence against Harris. Former state crime scene investigator Michael Oyer held up the tire iron authorities claim Harris wielded during the killing spree.
Oyer also displayed Harris’ shoes and a wireless Internet card from the Gees’ computer — all found days after the killings with the tire iron in a grassy area near Armington where Harris was staying.
A photo depicting the outline of a blister on the palm of Harris’ hand also was shown to the jury. The mark was the only sign of injury noted by police 11 days after the deaths.
Harris is claiming self-defense in his assertion that he killed victim Dillen Constant, 14, after he interrupted the youth murdering the other family members.
The timeframe as to when the family may have been attacked was narrowed Friday with testimony from Robert Dickerson with AT&T. He said the Internet to the Gee home was last connected at 1:11 a.m. Sept. 21, 2009. A neighbor testified Thursday that the last response from Rick Gee to a computer message came at 12:42 a.m.