A Marrero man who twice used his full-size sports-utility vehicle to hit his ex-girlfriend’s 61-year-old mother, knocking her to the ground on a Harvey street during the first strike and running over her leg on the second pass, was convicted as charged Friday night of aggravated second-degree battery.
Earl K. Harris, 42, faces zero to 15 years in prison for the incident on Sept. 11, 2015, when about 11 p.m., he struck the great-grandmother of three as she walked in the 1100 block of Clydesbank Drive in the Scotsdale neighborhood.
The woman, who uses a cane to help her walk and requires more surgery, was returning to her home after walking to a cousin’s house on Clydesbank Drive, to borrow diapers for one of her grandchildren.
She had a friend accompany her, and as they walked the sidewalk back to her home, she noticed the bright lights and loud engine of an SUV coming up from behind them, she testified Friday. “It was coming fast,” she said.
She testified the SUV struck her, and its driver circled around across homes’ lawns and ran the vehicle over her left leg. He circled around for a third pass. That’s when she recognized the driver, Harris, looking at her through the passenger-side window.
“He looked over at me on the ground and smiled,” she testified.
The victim’s companion and a nearby resident called 911, and the jury heard recordings of the calls. In the companion’s call, the victim is heard wailing in pain – and identifying Harris as the driver who injured her.
“Earl Keith Harris. Please, he’s coming back,” she told the 911 operator. “I need to go to the hospital. Please, please.”
Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Justin McLin testified that he arrived to find the woman lying partially in the street. “She was screaming for help,” he testified, adding that the victim identified Harris as the driver. McLin noted fresh tire marks on the grassy lawns on both sides of Clydesbank, showing Harris’ path.
The victim was rushed to Ochsner’s West Bank emergency room, where the treating physician, Dr. Elizabeth Skeins, noted one of the woman’s tibia bones was “broken into several pieces,” she testified. The injury required immediate surgery, Skeins testified.
Harris denied he was the driver, and his public defender suggested that the morphine and hydromorphone the victim was given by paramedics and hospital staff adversely affected her memory. The defense also argued the area of Clydesbank was poorly lit at night, calling into question whether the victim could see who was driving.
From the witness stand, she stood by the identification. “He know[s] he hit me, and I know he hit me,” she insisted during the contentious cross-examination.
Harris made an apparent attempt to derail his trial on Thursday, minutes after his victim began to testify against him the first time. He suddenly stood from his seat at the defense table and, in front of the jury, he interrupted her testimony and created a disturbance.
Citing the potential life sentence in prison Harris could receive as a habitual offender, given his convictions that include armed robbery and narcotics offenses, Judge Conn Regan of the 24th Judicial District Court granted a defense mistrial request. “The court does not want to grant a mistrial, because the court is of the opinion the defendant was acting out. But out of an abundance of caution, the court is going to grant a mistrial,” Judge Regan said Thursday.
He stayed the trial to allow prosecutors to file an immediate appeal. The District Attorney’s Office prevailed at the state 5th Circuit Court of Appeal, which on Friday morning reversed the trial court’s mistrial decision and ordered the trial to resume. In their appeal, prosecutors asserted that Harris attempted to “short-circuit” his own trial through his outburst. The victim resumed her testimony on Friday and insisted that Harris was the driver who injured her.
The jury deliberated more than 2 ½ hours before delivering the verdict after 7:30 p.m. Judge Regan is scheduled to hand down the sentence on Sept. 16.
Assistant District Attorneys Brittany Beckner and Andrew DeCoste prosecuted the case. Assistant District Attorney Darren Allemand handled the appeal.