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Assault victim testified 'Well, I'm finished'

By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Sept. 22, 2011 at 4:22 a.m.

Billy Joe Harris, right, confers with defense attorney Alan Cohen during a break in the punishment phase of his trial in Edna. Harris, dubbed the Twilight Rapist, was found guilty Wednesday of aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person in Edna.

CHANGE in behavior

BY SONNY LONGSLONG@VICAD.COMFor the first time since his trial began on Sept. 12, convicted rapist Billy Joe Harris took an active interest in the proceedings.

Unlike his demeanor during the guilt/innocence phase of the trial when he sat quietly, head often lowered and twitching from time to time, on Thursday Harris was much more attentive.

He turned his head toward the jury box and seemed to be listening intently when District Attorney Bobby Bell was giving his opening statement and watched each witness as they testified.

And the shakes, for the most part, were gone.

More than once during testimony and on breaks, he consulted with his attorney Alan Cohen, again something he had not done in the courtroom during the first phase of the trial.

When he arrived in the court, Harris was told his sister was in the courtroom. He turned, smiled and waved at his sibling.

EDNA - The woman believed to be the first victim of Billy Joe Harris testified Thursday morning that she feared for her life during the attack in January 2009.

"He went for my neck, and I thought, 'Well, I'm finished.' It seemed like he was made of steel. I was screaming. Screaming as loud as I could," said the now 69-year-old Yoakum woman.

"He said if I don't shut up he was going to kill me, and I thought for sure he was," said the diminutive woman with an equally tiny voice.

The victim also had at least $11,000 in cash stolen from her.

District Attorney Bobby Bell asked why she kept so much cash on hand.

"I guess I'm like the old people used to do and just put it aside," she said. "I never thought anything would happen to me like that."

She said Harris attacked her again on Nov. 9, 2009, even after Yoakum Police moved her to a new home.

Harris has been connected to her attack by DNA, according to the Texas Rangers Serial Rapist Task Force's investigation, dubbed the Twilight Rapist case.

The woman testified that when he entered her home in November he said to her, "Remember me? Did you miss me?"

The testimony is part of the punishment phase of Harris' ongoing trial at the Jackson County courthouse.

On Wednesday, he was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a disabled woman in Edna.

Bell plans to bring forward more than a dozen victims of assaults and burglaries who have either been linked to Harris or are believed to have been committed by Harris, 54, of Missouri City.

District Judge Skipper Koetter said the testimony is allowed for the jury to consider as a pattern of behavior when deciding Harris' punishment, even though he has not gone to trial on the other cases.

He faces prison and a sentence of five to 99 years or life and can be fined up to $10,000.YOAKUM EVIDENCE

During afternoon testimony, Bell called three forensic scientists from the Texas Department of Public Safety crime lab to discuss the evidence in the Yoakum case.

Brent Watson began to give the jury an overview of what DNA is and how it is extracted and tested when defense attorney Alan Cohen objected.

Cohen had made a motion before the trial that DNA evidence not be introduced because the defense ran out of money to conduct its own tests or have the prosecution's tests verified by a defense-hired lab.

The judge denied the motion because the court had provided the defense with a budget for DNA testing that Koetter would not increase because Harris was not considered indigent.

After Watson's overview, forensic scientist Brandi Mohler testified that a mixture of DNA taken from the victim was compared to Harris' DNA and the likelihood that it wasn't his DNA was 1 in 8.937 million.

Sandy Parent, also a forensic scientist at the DPS crime lab's trace evidence section, also testified. Her specialty is shoe print identification.

A print had been found outside the window of the Yoakum victim.

Parent, in comparing the print at the scene to the shoes of Harris recovered at the Edna crime scene, said, "It could have come from that shoe or any other shoe with the same tread pattern and size."

A key found in one of Harris' cars in Missouri City also matched the key to the home of a woman who the Yoakum victim cleaned house for, according to the combined testimony of Texas Ranger Troy Wilson, Yoakum Police Criminal Investigator Lee Campbell and Edna hardware store owner Gus Westhoff.

Wilson recovered the key from the car, Campbell obtained a key from the homeowner for comparison. Westhoff is an experienced key maker who compared the two keys.FORMER GIRLFRIEND

Also testifying Thursday afternoon was Florence Collins.

Collins, Harris' on-again, off-again former girlfriend of 10 years, lived with him at one time in Copperas Cove.

Collins, who met Harris on the job where she also worked in prison food service, testified that she deposited $11,000 in Harris' bank account at his request over the course of three days not long after the robbery in Yoakum.

She also said that she and Harris fought a lot, mainly about other women and about how much time he spent on the computer. More than once, the fights were physically violent.

"He was always on the computer," she testified. "And he didn't want me to see what he was doing.

"We took that computer in for repairs one time and the man said someone had been looking at a lot of pornography," Collins testified.

She also described Harris as controlling.

"If you didn't do what he said, he'd get mad at you," she said.

Testimony will continue at 9 a.m. Monday.

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