Six weeks after he was charged with trying to help his son get away with a double homicide,Edward Harris, who already has spent six years on Louisiana's Death Row before his murder conviction was overturned, appeared before a judge Monday to plead not guilty to the latest allegation against him. But Harris, 38, a former Marrero resident, will have to tell it to another judge.
Judge Donnie Rowan of the 24th Judicial District Court announced he will not preside over Harris' case. That's because in 2006, when he was a prosecutor with the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office, Rowan tried to convict Harris of two murders.
"I'm very familiar with Mr. Harris," Rowan said in announcing he is stepping off Harris' case. "I know all about him, his crimes. This court feels it impossible to reconcile."
The case was re-allotted to Judge Conn Regan's court, but he, too, might have a conflict. Before he was elected to the bench in 2006, Regan oversaw felony prosecutions at the Jefferson Parish district attorney's office.
Edward Harris in 1994, when he was booked with two Marrero murders for which he was later sentenced to die. His son, Irvin Harris, 21, was indicted with a double murder on Feb. 20, 2014.JPSO
On Oct. 14, 1994, Harris opened fire on Tamyra Frazier and Mister Gordon, both 19-year-old Harvey residents, as they walked in the 1600 block of Betty Street in Marrero. They were shot in their backs. Harris said he was defending himself from Gordon, a drug-dealing rival. But deputies found Gordon's pistol still stuffed in the back of his pants' waistband.
A jury in 1995 rejected the self-defense argument, convicted Harris of two counts of first-degree murder and recommended the death penalty. The Louisiana Supreme Court in 2002 reversed the convictions on grounds that the trial judge erred in accepting prosecutors' reasons for removing a black man from the jury.
Harris was re-indicted on charges of second-degree murder, and that's when Rowan was briefly involved in the case before he was elected a judge in 2007. Harris was tried anew in 2010, but the jury convicted him of manslaughter for killing Gordon and negligent homicide for killing Frazier.
He was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Of late, he was in a work-release program and soon eligible to apply for parole. That was his circumstance when he was indicted in connection with his son's case.
Irvin Harris, 21, of Harvey, is charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the Aug. 13 deaths of Nikiayh Westerfield and Dave Harrison, both 19-year-old college students who were gunned down in the 4000 block of Paige Janette Drive in Harvey. Irvin Harris and his mother, Kanetra Whyte, 36, of Harvey, also are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice. Court records do not make clear what the Harrises and Whyte are alleged to have done other than that they tried to obstruct the investigation of Westerfield and Harrison's deaths.
Also charged with two counts of second-degree murder in the case are Jerremy Coleman, 20, of Wa man and Tavis Joseph, 20, of Houston. Authorities have said thatColeman was left partially paralyzed after he was wounded in the Paige Janette Drive shooting.
Coleman and Irvin Harris also were indicted on charges of possessing stolen firearms, involving the guns used in the shooting. According to an arrest affidavit, detectives searched Irvin Harris's phone and found in it pictures of him with a Glock 27 .40-caliber pistol whose serial number was visible in one photo. That gun was reported stolen from a vehicle in May 2013, and ballistic tests linked it to the double homicide, according to the affidavit.
The case has further potential for conflict, said Assistant District Attorney Doug Freese, who is prosecuting the five people. Attorney Martin Regan, who defended Edward Harris in his 2010 trial, now represents Coleman in the new case in which Harris is a co-defendant, Freese said.
Edward Harris' attorney, Rachel Conner, would not comment after Monday's court appearance. Because of Rowan's involvement with Harris, the entire case was moved to Regan's court.
At Conner's request, Rowan ordered that Harris be held in the parish jail in Gretna until the obstruction of justice charge is resolved. Harris had been serving his prison sentence for his homicide convictions in Rapides Parish but was transferred to Gretna earlier in March.