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Jury selected in Twilight Rapist case

By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Sept. 12, 2011 at 4:12 a.m.

Billy Joe Harris, center, is escorted into the courtroom by Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputies prior to the start of jury selection in his aggravated sexual assault trial in Edna.

JURY SELECTION BY THE NUMBERS

Number Called To Report: 200

Number Initially Seated: 90

Number Excused by Judge: 20

Number Selected: 14 (includes two alternates); seven men and seven women

I won't let this become a circus.

District Judge Skipper Koetter

on removing Billy Joe Harris from the courtroom if he becomes disruptive.

EDNA - Billy Joe Harris, who is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person, will be handcuffed during his trial, at his attorney's request.

On Monday, a jury of seven men and seven women, which includes two alternates, was selected.

Testimony will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Harris, 54, of Missouri City, is believed to be the person dubbed the Twilight Rapist, who assaulted women in DeWitt, Lavaca and other central Texas counties in the early morning hours of 2009 and 2010.

He was arrested in Edna on Jan. 8.

Seated at the defense table beside Houston attorney Alan Cohen, on Monday Harris was clad in a solid blue dress shirt, black dress pants and wearing black-framed glasses.

At times, Harris suddenly shuddered, trembled and twitched. Other times he rested the side of his face on the table.

SECURITY MEASURES

At his attorney's request, Harris was restrained with handcuffs, leg irons and a stun belt, a 50,000-volt device around his waist with the trigger in the hands of one of the three Jackson County deputies near Harris at all times.

Before jury selection began, District Judge Skipper Koetter wanted to ensure the official court record reflected that the security measures were at the request of Harris' attorney.

"It's highly prejudicial, but done at the request of Mr. Cohen, for his safety and for the safety of courtroom personnel," said the judge. "He's already had a verbal outburst that startled everyone in the courtroom. I will not let this become a circus."

Harris, in previous courtroom appearances during pre-trial hearings, had caused problems.

"The last time we had an outburst, it took four deputies to restrain him and I am not going to put them in that position again," said Koetter. "If they can put a hand on him and put him back in the chair, that's fine. If that doesn't work, we'll have to take more extreme measures."

In addition to the security measures, Harris - if he does not behave properly - could be sent to a room where he could watch the court proceedings via cameras in the courtroom.

JURY SELECTION

District Attorney Bobby Bell is prosecuting the case, assisted by Pam Guenther.

During jury selection, Bell emphasized to the panel of 70 potential jurors several key components to consider if they are chosen. These included that the state has the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, that if Harris chooses not to testify in his own behalf, that cannot be used against him and that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.

Cohen plans to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity on his client's behalf and Bell also quizzed potential jurors on that topic, asking them to keep an open mind on the issue.

In Jackson County, Harris was also been indicted on a charge of burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit sexual assault on Dec. 4.

Additional charges in other counties, including DeWitt County, are also pending against Harris.

DNA has linked Harris to six assaults and Texas Rangers recovered evidence in his home from four burglaries, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.

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