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20-year sentence in shooting death

A Lincoln County man was sentenced to 20 years in prison afterbeing convicted of manslaughter Tuesday in the Aug. 4, 2001,shooting death of another county man in the Brignall community.

Jeremy Harris, 25, of 414 Old Wesson Road Lot 38, had beenindicted on a murder charge in the death of Richard Washington, 26,during an argument over who was the “baddest” while they were inhigh school. However, the manslaughter verdict suggests jurors didnot see where Harris had a “deliberate design” to justify a murderconviction, which carries a life sentence.

“I feel like the verdict was certainly fair,” said PublicDefender Gus Sermos.

District Attorney Danny Smith said he was disappointed with thedecision, but he understood how it could have been reached. Thejury deliberated about two and a half hours.

“I can understand how the jury could have seen that it wascommitted in the heat of passion,” Smith said.

On the witness stand Tuesday, Harris said he tried to avoid aconfrontation with Washington and acknowledged he was the strongerman. There was some testimony during the trial that Washington hadremoved his shirt and shoved Harris, indicating readiness for apossible fight.

Under heavy cross examination from Smith, Harris offered a fuzzyrecollection of some of the events surrounding the shooting.Recalling a pathologist’s testimony about a possible ricochet,Harris doubted he intentionally shot Washington in the back as hestumbled in a ditch behind the home at 853 Howard Road.

“I can’t see myself doing that,” Harris said.

In closing arguments, Sermos argued there was a lot of action ina short amount of time, five to possibly 15 or 20 minutes, betweenthe argument and when Washington was shot. After getting a gun fromhis mother’s home, Harris only returned to the scene of theargument to scare Washington, the attorney said.

“This was an entire, tied-together sequence of events,” Sermossaid.

In their closing, Smith and Assistant District Attorney DianeJones said Harris was prideful and had a “cloak of honor” that waspierced during the argument that happened in front of people whohad been friends since first grade.

Smith said Washington was unarmed and there was nothing to makeHarris feel threatened. The DA pointed out that Harris wasdescribed as calm when he left.

Smith said Harris made conscious decisions to go get the gun,deceive his mother by hiding it, getting a ride back to the sceneand chasing Washington behind the home.

“This is a man who’s thinking about what he is going to do,”Smith said.

Jones cited Harris’ testimony about how the charges had messedup his life. Citing a verse from Proverbs, “Pride goeth before thefall,” Jones said jurors never heard Harris express remorse, but heinstead continued to focus on how the events affected him.

“He had an agenda to defend his pride,” Jones said in describingthe shooting.

Judge Mike Smith sentenced Harris after the manslaughter verdictwas read.

While awaiting sentencing, Harris expressed sorrow and askedforgiveness from the Washington family. He said he didn’t plan forthe shooting to happen.

“I know I done something wrong,” Harris said.

Harris was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison and alsoordered to pay restitution for Washington’s hospital and funeralexpenses. The judge said the incident was tragic, but there shouldbe no animosity between the families involved.

“Whatever happened was between Richard and Jeremy,” Judge Smithsaid, adding that Washington could possibly have handle thesituation differently. “There’s no doubt things could have beenhandled differently on Jeremy’s part.”