Court approves some funding to assist in suspected Twilight Rapist defense

Sonny Long

July 8, 2011 at 2:08 a.m.

EDNA - Billy Joe Harris will receive $6,500 from the state to help pay for DNA testing and a psychological exam after a ruling in district court in Jackson County on Friday.

Harris is accused of being the Twilight Rapist.

In two separate motions, defense attorney Alan Cohen had asked District Judge Skipper Koetter for substantially more money, but the judge only allocated a portion of the requests.

Koetter said he used his discretion on how much to assist the defense, if any, because Harris is not considered indigent.

A thin Harris, handcuffed and shackled, also appeared in court clad in a black and white jail uniform and flanked by two Jackson County Sheriff's Office deputies.

He sat next to his attorney at the defense table and did not speak during the half-hour hearing that was was conducted mostly with Jackson County District Attorney Bobby Bell out of the courtroom.

During the ex-parte discussion with the judge, Cohen made the funding requests.

"There are multiple cases, not only in this county but in other counties," Cohen said. "I do not know whether the state will use DNA evidence, but it needs to be checked and double checked to make sure it was collected and tested properly."

Cohen said at least four of the cases possibly involve DNA evidence and testing would cost $2,000 to $3,000 each with the private company he checked with.

"The costs could run well over $10,000," he said. "The defendant does not have the financial resources to do this."

Koetter then told Cohen he would budget $5,000 for the testing. The judge also reminded Cohen that the trial will be held in September.

"We will not violate that timeline," said the judge. "Make sure they are informed up front of the timeline."

Cohen said he plans to use Sorenson Forensics, a Salt Lake City-based company with an office in Houston, for the DNA testing.

Cohen's other motion was a request for funds for a psychiatrist to examine Harris. Harris has already been evaluated by a state psychologist and a defense psychologist for competency to stand trial.

Cohen requested $5,000 for a medical doctor and a psychiatrist to conduct a third examination.

Koetter allocated $1,500.

When the district attorney returned to the courtroom, he expressed his displeasure at the motion requesting funds for an additional mental health exam.

"I don't think the county should be paying if he's not indigent. A third expert should not have to be paid for by the county," Bell said.

State funds are funneled through counties to pay for indigent defense.

Cohen then argued.

"The cost of management of this case is extreme. It's not about economics, it's about fairness. It's to ensure a fair trial," he said. "I appreciate the court's ruling."

Harris, the suspected Twilight Rapist, is charged in a series of attacks on women, often elderly or disabled, and burglaries in South and Central Texas, including four in Yoakum, that began two years ago.

In Jackson County, the indictment includes counts of burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit sexual assault and burglary of a habitation on Dec. 4.

The indictment also includes a count of aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person on Jan. 8.

Additional charges in other counties are also pending against Harris.

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

Edna Police arrested Harris on Jan. 8 in Edna. He remains in the Jackson County Jail.



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