Note: The following story contains disturbing details of child sexual abuse, as presented through courtroom testimony and evidence. It was Halloween night inand the year-old girl had gone out trick-or-treating with a friend.
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She came home, took off her cat costume, cleaned up and got ready for bed. The nowyear-old's voice is hushed as she struggles to get the words out. She takes a deep breath and fights back tears. She was afraid when it happened that night, and when it happened so many times afterward. She blamed herself.
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The teenager accused Larry Harris, a man she once likened to a father figure, of sexually assaulting her on Halloween night And the pattern continued, she said, from tosometimes multiple times a week. It became routine. Nearly five months after a jury found Harris, 46, guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the death of year-old Jerome Smith in Johnson Citythe Binghamton man stood trial a second time Monday — charged under a separate and unrelated indictment in the predatory sexual assault and rape of the girl beginning when she was Harris will return to court for sentencing at a later date — he faces a potential prison sentence of 25 years to life due to Wednesday's conviction and as a result of his criminal record.
The sentence could also run consecutively to the prison term he's expected to receive for the manslaughter conviction, which itself could be up to 25 years. Moments after hearing Wednesday's verdict, as corrections officers escorted him away after the verdict, Harris turned and faced the gallery where his accuser sat.
As the corrections officers hurried him out of the courtroom, he exclaimed, "Don't touch me! The girl who accused Harris of sexually assaulting her clung to her mother in their seat and cried in apparent relief. Prosecutors Anthony Frank and Christopher Ganz called three witnesses — the girl they say Harris abused, the girl's mother and her aunt — before resting their case Monday. The lack of a jury helped streamline what evidence needed to be presented, compared against the nearly two-week trial in the homicide case in which some two dozen witnesses testified.
Harris, the prosecutors argued, made himself out to be a romantic partner to the year-old girl instead of acting as the adult she was supposed to trust. Ganz, his voice flaring at times during a closing speech Tuesday, said Harris' grooming of his victim might have helped keep the abuse a secret for years, but that didn't prevent her from sharing the graphic descriptions of what happened when it came time to testify against him.
Harris' lawyer, Christopher Grace, focused his defense on picking apart the dates of alleged sexual assaults, the circumstances surrounding them and other details that his client's accuser and other witnesses couldn't clearly remember. Grace, his hand raised as he critiqued the reliability of his client's accusers, argued Harris shouldn't be convicted based on anyone's foggy memories.
In a Tuesday closing speech, Grace said, "They're trying to prove this charge and not provide this court with the proper evidence. Sometimes jotting notes on a yellow legal pad, Harris frequently shook his head as he listened to testimony Monday from the prosecution's witnesses.
When he testified Tuesday in his own defense, Harris conceded he had sex with the girl once inwhen she was 17, but vehemently denied the sexual assault accusations. The mother of the girl Harris was accused of abusing described him once being a man her daughter felt she could trust.
He often bought the girl new sneakers and new iPhones whenever she needed a new one. He'd even give her lunch money for school. There were assumptions that Harris made his money selling drugs, something that was also mentioned by his acquaintances when he stood trial in late April for the Johnson City's boy's homicide. Shortly before Halloween inHarris took it upon himself to teach the girl about "the birds and the bees.
That's when the sexual abuse began, prosecutors claimed. Her testimony about what happened became key to the prosecution. On Monday, Harris' accuser paused when asked to describe the allegations of sexual abuse in graphic detail. She looked down before tilting her head up slightly to speak toward the judge seated at her left.
She described in graphic detail the manner in which she said Harris sexually assaulted her the night of Halloween in in a Binghamton residence. She accused Harris of raping her "a few times a week" after that, from the summer of into January Other sexual assaults happened at a Lester Avenue residence in Johnson City, she testified.
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Harris, seated at the defense table, at one point leaned his head back and shook his head slightly before facing the witness stand once more. Grace focused his questioning on testing her memory of dates and locations of alleged incidents.
In Juneshe confided in her aunt about her accusations against Harris. Her aunt told the girl's mother, and they reported the accusations to law enforcement. At that point, Harris had been jailed and was awaiting trial in connection with the homicide of year-old Jerome Smith, whose mother Harris had been in a relationship with. When the mother of the girl who accused Harris of rape took the witness stand Monday, her voice quivered as she described the moment when she learned of the allegations from her daughter.
Seated in the same chair where, just a day earlier, the year-old had accused him of repeated acts of sexual assault, Harris was ready to tell his side of the story. He chose to testify in his own defense, walking confidently to the witness stand, his muscular frame in a black collared shirt and khakis. During Octoberhe explained, he was under strict parole supervision after serving prison time for a robbery conviction in the Bronx. It didn't make sense, he said, to land himself in trouble again by committing these sex crimes. He denied having an inappropriate relationship with the girl when she was 11 or having sexual encounters with her in the ensuing years, into Then, he admitted to having sex with her in But he wasn't facing any criminal charges for that alleged encounter, and testified, "One thing led to another, and we had sex.
Ganz, questioning Harris about the sexual assaults, focused more than 30 minutes on reading aloud a series of sexually explicit text messages between Harris and the victim.
Harris became upset as he listened to Ganz's tone, and countered, "You're making it sound like a sex situation. Then, Ganz read the girl's text response, in which she told Harris she didn't want to "make love all the him. After more than 30 minutes, after rubbing his eyes, Cawley politely interrupted the prosecutor. Given that this is a non-jury trial, he said, he'd heard enough.
In most criminal trials, a panel of 12 jurors is chosen to hear the evidence and decide a verdict. The verdict must be unanimous, but if multiple charges are involved, the jury could convict the accused person of some charges and also find the person not guilty of others. Harris was found not guilty of second-degree murder in Jerome Smith's homicide, but jurors found him guilty of first-degree manslaughter. Before standing trial in the sexual abuse case, Harris agreed to waive a jury trial and instead leave the verdict for the judge to decide.
Legal dates say the odds are more in a defendant's favor by taking their chances with convincing a jury of 12, rather than convincing one judge in what is referred to as a bench trial. The tactic worked for Cal Harris, who was acquitted of murder in after a fourth trial that was held in front of a judge in Schoharie County. It didn't work for Dwight Burton inwhen he was convicted after a bench trial in front of Cawley for setting a fire that killed two girls.
Generally, legal experts say, bench trials can be more advantageous for the defendant in cases that are heavily emotional because a judge is bound by the law and is less likely to be swayed by emotion when looking at the evidence to base decisions on whether the accused has been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
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A jury convicted him of killing an year-old boy. Now a judge says he's guilty of abusing an year-old girl. Larry Harris, of Binghamton, stood accused of sexually assaulting a girl multiple times beginning in Octoberwhen she was 11 years old.