Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Harris homicide case: Weiner could be a witness

a1 harris

Coleen Harris, 70, accused of murdering her husband sits with her attorney David Weiner at a table in Department 2 Superior Court in Placerville Friday June 27. Democrat photo by Pat Dollins

From page A1 | July 02, 2014 |

A judge will determine if a woman accused of killing her husband will be forced to receive a new attorney after her current one became a potential prosecution witness.

A June 27 hearing in the Colleen Harris case began with three attorneys instead of the usual two: Joe Alexander from the District Attorney’s Office; David Weiner for Harris; and Mark Ralphs of the Public Defender’s Office representing Harris in a very limited capacity — a motion to recuse Weiner lobbied by the prosecution.

Ralphs had a handwritten document signed by Harris regarding the possible conflict of interest, with Harris waiving her rights. When asked by Judge Daniel B. Proud if she intended on keeping Weiner as her attorney, she replied, “I do.”

This could, Proud told her, preclude her from appealing on grounds of inadequate counsel. Due to attorney-client privilege, the matter was often danced around during the hearing. The prosecution was also wary of speaking in open court as it could reveal their tactics for the case.

“If it was for good reason, I’d be the first to recuse myself,” Weiner said. He believed the reasons for the prosecution wanting his removal were based on speculation. The reasons, supposedly based on timing of phone calls just after the alleged murder, were “factually inaccurate,” he said.

During the course of the hearing, it came out that Weiner had called 911. Instead of being connected to El Dorado County’s dispatch, he was connected to Amador County. Amador called back, telling him that there was no address matching the one he gave them in their county.

Weiner also said that Alexander was at the scene, as well. “I guess I could put him on the witness list,” he said. Weiner did not believe Alexander would end up calling him as a witness.

Alexander said he believes Weiner to be misleading the court in what happened with the phone calls. He also said that Weiner tried to give a gun found at the Harris residence to the family. “It’s a gun,” Alexander emphasized, “from a murder scene.” Alexander found the action unbelievable as Weiner has 40 years of experience as a defense attorney.

Meanwhile, Alexander said, Harris visited her son, Wesley Thornberry, at his house — though Thornberry was not home and Harris left a note. The note, believed to be incriminating evidence, has disappeared. As amnesia is one of the possible defenses to be used, Alexander believes the note will counter this. Thornberry also does not remember giving Weiner a cell phone, though Weiner is clearly in possession of the cell phone in question. E-mails from the IRS have gone missing. The family has also given the prosecution problems, as the only way they would talk was after being summoned by a Grand Jury.

Weiner called the allegation that he tried to give the gun to a family member “horse hockey.” He had indeed contacted Pam Harris, but Pam is a detective supervisor in Los Angeles. Her husband is a deputy district attorney. Though they are family, they are also law enforcement and capable of receiving the gun and giving it to proper authorities. There was also no information pointing to that gun being used. To say he was trying to hide property was “nonsense, illogical and irrational.” He said that it is well-known Harris tried to visit her son — her car broke down and there are AAA records as well as cell phone records.

To be thrown off the case would not be right, he said, aside from the year and a half he has spent working on it. Then, two weeks before the trial, after dates had been confirmed, the prosecution filed the motion. “That’s not fair.” He also said that the time stamp of the 911 call was off by two hours. “They want to throw an attorney off the case on mere speculation,” he said.

Though he did not disagree with the call time, Alexander said he was not merely speculating. But, ultimately, it’s for a jury to decide, he said. “I see him as a necessary witness for the People’s case.” He said he has spoken with others and he is “not just saber-rattling” and that Weiner is “as close to an accessory after the fact as you can get without crossing the line.”

Proud then took Ralphs, who had largely remained silent for the hearing, into chambers. Ralphs left, replaced by Alexander, Weiner and Harris. Alexander left minutes later. Minutes after that, the remaining three reentered the courtroom. As the in-chambers meeting had officially been on the record, Proud ordered the testimony given in chambers to be sealed. He then said he would take all the information into submission and would not be making a decision that day.

The next hearing in the matter will be on Friday, July 11, at 8:30 a.m. in Department 2.





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