Tuesday, April 09, 2013
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Drazewski rules jurors will not tour Gee home

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[April 09, 2013]  Friday afternoon, Christopher Harris and his attorneys appeared before Judge Scott D. Drazewski for the last time in Logan County. The next hearing in the Harris case will be April 19 at the Peoria County Courthouse in Peoria. The hearing will include arguing pretrial motions. There will be another hearing date on April 29, and jury selection is set to begin on April 30. It is anticipated jury selection will wrap up by the end of that week, and the total length of the trial should be three to four weeks.

Friday, Drazewski began going though a long list of pretrial motions. He asked the prosecution and defense to recommend to him in what order he should hear the motions.

At the top of the list was the decision as to whether or not jurors should be permitted to tour the Gee home. The motion was a request to allow, made by the defense.

Soon after defense attorneys Dan Fultz and Peter Naylor were appointed to the Harris case last year, replacing attorney James Elmore, Fultz said in an interview with local media that he did not feel touring the home would be necessary. He told media that there were sufficient photos and videos of the crime scene for the defense to make its case.

However, on Friday afternoon, Naylor told Drazewski that after he and Fultz personally toured the home last fall, they knew that the photos were not a fair representation of the home and its small size.

He said the jury needs to experience and see firsthand the tightness of the house and the smallness of the hallways in order to understand the positions the defense will take in this case.

He added that the tour is about the size and space of the home and not at all about forensic evidence that may remain at the crime scene.

Naylor said touring the home will give the jurors a sense of how the crimes occurred and the timeline in which they occurred. He noted the prosecution is arguing that the physical changes to the home over the past three years will not offer an accurate representation of the crime scene. However, Naylor said it will offer what is needed, because while the crime scene may have changed, the physical structure remains.

Naylor said if the jury would not be allowed to see the home firsthand, the defense would have to continually point out to them how small the spaces were, as this is an integral portion of their defense.

Naylor and co-attorney Dan Fultz intend to argue that Christopher Harris could not have committed the crimes as accused and walked out of the house unharmed. Naylor said the defense and prosecution agree that what took place in the Gee home in September of 2009 was a violent and brutal fight.

He told Drazewski that jurors needed to see the house to understand how long it took to get from one room to the other during this fight. Naylor said the prosecution would argue that touring the home served no useful purpose, while he believes it is not only useful but critical to the case.

Drazewski pointed out a particular photo that is among the hundreds taken of the crime scene. He noted a gloved hand in the photo and used it to lead into his questions about public safety with the presence of human blood, tissue and mold. Naylor said he didn't know whose hand was in the photo, but that when he and Fultz toured the home, they wore gloves. He said it would be good for jurors to also wear gloves, face masks and touch as little as possible. He also stated the jurors could be in and out of the house in approximately five minutes.

Included in the mass of photos are a collection of shots taken by the Logan County Sheriff's Department in March of this year, after the motion to tour the home was filed.

Assistant Attorney General Michael Atterberry walked through those photos, pointing out numerous health issues. He also pointed out that in three years of being abandoned, the house has physically changed.

Naylor told the judge that the jurors would be instructed to disregard all of that. They would only be asked to observe the walls, doors and physical size of the structure.

However, Drazewski commented that looking at the photos taken in 2009 and comparing them with those taken last month, he wasn't sure how that could not have an impact on the jury.

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Naylor said the jury would be instructed as what they were to look at and consider, and what not to consider. He used the hallway of the home as an example of the difference in perception between photo and real life. He said in the photo, one could not sense how small the hallway was.

When Atterberry was permitted to argue against the motion, he painstakingly went through dozens of pictures, pointing out things the jury will see that are not representative of the night of the crimes.

What was revealed in this discussion is that the crimes took place in virtually every room of the home. He discussed blood and human tissue on a bedroom mattress, the upheaval of the kitchen and more.

He also went through the photos showing examples of mold in the hallway, living room, kitchen and more.

He pointed out portions of floors that have deteriorated and also said the floor in the bathroom had fallen in where evidence was removed from the scene. In addition he pointed out that bushes outside in front of the home on the night of the murders are no longer there due to some type of pipeline construction that has taken place in the last three years. He moved on, saying that a portion of the sidewalk where evidence was found no longer exists, as with a portion of the entryway flooring.

He said that in presenting his case, Naylor had said seven times that the jurors would be instructed not to consider this or that, but telling them not to look at something was a sure way to assure they would. Drazewski commented that this was the "Oz effect": tell people not to look at the man behind the curtain and that is all they will look at.

Atterberry also stated that the prosecution had no objection to the defense providing diagrams of the house with its dimensions, and he felt that would be a much safer approach than exposing the jurors to all the contamination inside the home.

When Naylor was permitted to dispute Atterberry's arguments, he told the judge that the jury would not be told what not to look at, but rather they would be instructed as to the purpose of the visit.

He said that Christopher Harris is facing some 50-plus charges of first-degree murder. It is important for the jury to see that this was violent combat that occurred in close quarters. Because of this, the defense maintains that Harris could not have committed the crimes without being injured himself.

Naylor said that viewing the home firsthand would be critical to the defense.

When Drazewski delivered his ruling, he began by saying the question was, Will viewing the home assist the jury in understanding what happened in 2009? He said in a perfect world, the jury would have seen the home much sooner, and yes it could have been beneficial, but after three years of sitting abandoned, things have changed inside the home, and it is no longer a true representation of the crime scene.

In addition, he said he had a responsibility to consider the potential health hazards inside the home and whether or not it was worth exposing the jury to that.

Finally, he said his last consideration took a back seat to all others but still had to be mentioned. He had to consider whether the time and expense of this type of tour was necessary.

When Naylor presented his case for the motion, he asked Drazewski, if in favor of denying the motion, to hold his decision until he personally had been taken to view the home.

In his decision Drazewski said he did not see a need to view the home personally before ruling on the motion. He said he also did not see the need for the jury to view the home personally; therefore, he would deny the motion without reservation.


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