Inside the case file of the 1984 murder investigation that was just reopened by FDLE
2020欧洲杯正规平台A man convicted in the 1984 murder of a Tallahassee woman – a case that was reopened by state investigators last week – was found incompetent for trial several times.
The physical evidence used to convict Eddie Daniel Harris was relatively thin, according to case documents obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat.
The Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office refused to release the case file citing the reactivated investigation, but the Democrat obtained the file from other sources. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed the reopened case but remains quiet about what new evidence may have come to light.
State Attorney Jack Campbell said old cases are frequently reopened based on new witness statements or evidence. He declined to discuss the particulars of this case, citing the active investigation.
'Confident,' but 'didn't have the greatest case'
2020欧洲杯正规平台The documents reveal that investigators relied on multiple shoe impressions found at the wooded lot where 33-year-old Willie Mae Bivins’ body was found in May 1984, the subjective interpretation of a polygraph test and eyewitness testimony that she and Harris were together the night she was last seen at the North Macomb Street bar Perry’s.
Now Leon County Circuit Judge James C. Hankinson was the prosecutor in the case in which Harris was sentenced to four years after pleading no contest to manslaughter, a lesser count from the first-degree murder charge by a grand jury. Harris never spent time in prison though because he’d already served 1,022 days and earned 480 days of gain time, generally granted for being a model inmate.
2020欧洲杯正规平台In an interview with the Democrat, Hankinson, an aggressive prosecutor in the 2nd Judicial Circuit from 1981 to 1991, said he thought Harris was the man who killed Bivins. He did not want to expound on why the case may have been reopened.
“We thought we had the right person,” he said. “We were confident of that.”
2020欧洲杯正规平台But he noted the plea agreement “suggests we didn’t have the greatest case.”
Inside the court documents
2020欧洲杯正规平台Harris was identified as a drifter from Cleveland, Ohio, who’d made his way to Tampa and then Tallahassee where he was working at a restaurant called Jerry’s. Court records show that witnesses saw Harris at the Perry's nightclub on May 12 with Bivins.
Witnesses noted the man seemed to have a leg injury and was wearing a cast shoe.
At about 4 a.m., she was spotted getting into a 1970’s-style sedan accompanied by a man, the last time she was seen alive.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Bivins, a 26-year-old Tallahassee woman, was found beaten and strangled two days later in a vacant lot near the intersection of Shadeville Highway and Bloxham Cutoff Road in Wakulla County. Her body was found dragged into the woodline about 25 feet from where investigators found a sedan’s tire tracks.
Harris was later picked out of a live lineup at the Leon County Sheriff’s Office as the person seen inside the bar.
Harris was spotted in Frenchtown in Dec. 1984, about six months after the murder, where he was picked up by the Tallahassee Police Department.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Harris denied any involvement in the case or being in Tallahassee around the time of Bivins’ murder. He took a polygraph test with FDLE, which agents said Harris was untruthful in.
2020欧洲杯正规平台“The results of the polygraph indicate that Mr. Harris is responsible for the death of Willie Mae Bivins.”
2020欧洲杯正规平台But he wasn’t arrested. Instead, Harris was returned to Cleveland to answer for a warrant for felony assault before being brought back to Florida.
2020欧洲杯正规平台He was arrested for the murder in 1985.
The suspect was described as having a pot belly and wearing a bandage or cast. Harris said he’d worn a special shoe but not in Florida. He also denied any weight loss, but detectives noted stretch marks. Records from several places he either lived or worked showed he was in Tallahassee in May 1984, as did a 911 call noted about a fight he was in just days before Bivins was murdered.
Defense attorney said case was 'circumstantial'
2020欧洲杯正规平台Harris’ lawyer, criminal defense attorney Judith Dougherty, contended the case against her client was “circumstantial” at best.
2020欧洲杯正规平台“The primary evidence is the fact that the defendant was the last person seen with the victim before her death,” she wrote in an Oct. 1985 court motion asking for an entomologist to determine Bivins’ time of death.
Harris’ competency was in question throughout the legal wranglings to start trial.
2020欧洲杯正规平台Before his plea date, he was sent to Florida State Hospital in Chattahoochee at least three times after being found incompetent to stand trial.
When he was arrested, he had a notebook “containing what can only be described as bizarre writings,” court records indicate. “Recent depositions of people having had contact with the defendant reveal that they observed very unusual conduct and emotional reactions causing them to doubt the defendant’s sanity.”
It is unclear what become of Harris after the conviction. Throughout the court proceedings even his own attorneys questioned his capability as a defendant.
2020欧洲杯正规平台“(Harris) exhibits irrational behavior in that he gives irrational reasons for his decisions regarding plea offers made by the state,” wrote Dougherty. “Such as ‘He has a feeling he will be saved in the nick of time,’ ‘Jesus will take care of him,’ and ‘His ESP tells him he will be saved.’”
Contact Karl Etters at email@example.com or @KarlEtters on Twitter.
Never miss a story: