Twilight Rapist case settled in 10 minutes: GUILTY
BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Sept. 21, 2011 at 4:21 a.m.
Reaction to Harris verdict
Edna residents react to the guilty verdict of Billy Joe Harris, dubbed the Twilight Rapist.
EDNA -A Jackson County jury took less than 10 minutes Wednesday to find Billy Joe Harris guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person.
After the verdict was read by District Judge Skipper Koetter, the six-woman, six-man jury was polled individually and each responded "yes" when asked whether guilty was their verdict.
"I am pleased that justice has been reached for the victim," said District Attorney Bobby Bell. "I am relieved and happy that justice has been obtained."
Harris, 54, of Missouri City, is thought to be the person who has sexually assaulted several women in central and South Texas. He has been dubbed the Twilight Rapist.
Defense attorney Alan Cohen was not shocked at the outcome.
"I'm not surprised in the least," he said. "I tried the best defense I could."
With his client arrested coming out of the apartment of the victim, Cohen said he knew he had only one chance at acquittal and that was pleading insanity.
"I tried a Hail Mary defense," Cohen said. "I didn't have any choice. This wasn't totally unexpected."CLOSING ARGUMENTS
Cohen's closing argument was brief, reminding the jury that Harris said from the witness stand and in his statement to Texas Rangers that the sex he had with the victim was consensual.
In his hour-long closing argument, Bell, district attorney in Jackson County for 28 years, recounted the evidence of the crime on Jan. 8 and the testimony of the victim who testified last week.
She sat in the front row Wednesday afternoon holding a blue rosary and occasionally dabbing at her eyes with a tissue.
"I am sorry that Carrie West (the pseudonym for the victim) is having to relive this, but I want you to see, taste, touch and feel what that lady went through that night," Bell told the jury as he went into the details of the crime.
"When she turned off her television and light that night to go to sleep, that's the last memory she'll ever have of a normal life. Her life from that moment on was forever changed. I assure you Carrie West has been given a life sentence," Bell said.
"Carrie West is a hero. She didn't decide she was going to give up...she scratched him as much as she could and she had the presence of mind to pull that (emergency medical alarm) cord," said Bell.
Pulling the cord alerted EMS and brought Edna Police officers Michael Yaws and Robert Chastain to the scene.
"If Michael Yaws, as sick as he was, hadn't gone to help, they'd still be looking for this guy," Bell said.
Bell reminded the jury of the audio recording of the telephone call between Harris and his girlfriend during which Harris admitted putting on a show in court faking symptoms of mental illness.
"You heard that laugh, that evil laugh," Bell said. "He is laughing at the system, he's laughing at the state of Texas and he's laughing at you. He can't help himself. He's proud that he is going to con everyone that he is crazy."
"He is guilty of raping Carrie West. He is guilty of trying to rape the criminal justice system," said Bell. "Let Carrie West, Michael Yaws and Robert Chastain know now is the time to stop all the nonsense, stop all the foolishness and make Billy Joe Harris accountable for the lives he has ruined."
"From the evidence, I suggest to you it ought to take you longer to elect your foreman than return a guilty verdict."
The district attorney was prophetic.STRICKEN TESTIMONY
Earlier Wednesday after a brief hearing, Koetter ruled the testimony of psychiatrist Dr. Colin Ross could not be considered by the jury.
Ross, of Richardson, testified Tuesday Harris suffered from multiple personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder.
Acting on a motion by Bell, the judge ruled these disorders are controversial and are not generally accepted in the scientific community.
He ordered the jury to disregard the testimony. The prosecution and the defense then rested their cases.
Before the judge's ruling, prosecution witness Dr. Richard Coons, a forensic psychiatrist, testified that his interview with Harris indicated no signs of mental illness.
"I've never seen any worse depiction of someone being mentally ill," Coons said, referring to Harris' attempt to convince him he had mental health issues. "To me, he just looked goofy."
"Given your education and experience, and based on your interview with Mr. Harris, is he suffering from mental disease or defect?"
"He is not," said Coons. "It doesn't appear to me that he doesn't understand what he did was illegal."
"Can we agree he's a little strange?" asked Bell.
"Oh, he's strange," Coons said.
Cohen had no questions for Coons.SENTENCING
The sentencing phase of the trial begins at 9 a.m. Thursday.
Cohen said he expects to call one witness, Harris' sister. Bell could call multiple witnesses including victims of the other crimes Harris is suspected of assaulting.
There will be no court on Friday and testimony is expected to continue into next week.
Harris is facing a sentence of five to 99 years or life and a fine of up to $10,000.