Jury to Hear Closing Arguments in Harris Murder Trial Thursday

By Jeremy Coumbes on May 4, 2022 at 5:13pm

Cass County State’s Attorney Craig Miller rested the state’s case in chief this afternoon after the jury heard testimony from Dr. Scott Denton, the forensic pathologist who performed the autopsies of 68-year-old Kathleen G. Wzientek and 64-year-old Brenda G. Crum. 72-year-old Robert Harris is accused of murdering Wzientek and Crum at Wzientek’s home in Virginia on January 10th of last year.

Dr. Denton concluded both women died due to multiple gunshot wounds. He testified that Crum was shot a total of six times, two of which in close range to the left side of her head in close succession, and Wzientek suffered three shots to the back of her head, two of those being in close succession.

Earlier in the day, the jury heard testimony from ISP Special Agent Travis Dunlap who interviewed Harris at the Morgan County Jail the night of the shooting. The jury was shown a video of the interview in which Harris said he got into a shoving match with Wzientek’s son David Miller on the front porch of her home the afternoon of the shooting. After being asked who else was at the home when he says he struggled with Miller, Harris said he wasn’t sure who all was there.

Following Dunlap’s testimony, Mark Wycoff, co-counsel for the defense asked the jury to be removed and then made a motion to bar the next four witnesses, including Dr. Denton, on grounds the defense did not receive their qualifications as expert witnesses.

Special Prosecutor assisting the State, Ed Parkinson accused Wykoff of sandbagging saying the defense received the witnesses’ reports months ago and had not mentioned the issue prior as recently as last week when he stated the defense was ready to go to trial.

After a brief recess for consideration, Cass County Circuit Judge Timothy J. Wessell ruled that the defense had the opportunity during three in-person pre-trial hearings to raise the issue and would allow the State to call the witnesses over Mr. Wykoff’s continuing objection.

ISP forensic and DNA experts testified that DNA from both Brenda Crum and Robert Harris was found on the .22 caliber handgun that was recovered from the trunk of Harris’ vehicle. Testimony was also heard that a latent fingerprint belonging to Harris was found on an ammunition box found with the weapon. And bullets recovered from the scene and from the victims’ bodies were identified as coming from Harris’ .22 caliber handgun.

The jury also heard testimony from Bill McFadden with Bill’s Towing of Jacksonville who testified that he was called by Illinois State Police to pick up the maroon Pontiac G6 Robert Harris was driving on Ring road at the time of his arrest.

McFadden testified that under the direction of State Police, he transported the vehicle to the Jacksonville Police Department evidence impound without making any stops or inventorying any of the vehicle’s contents.

After the jury was excused for recess, Wykoff made a motion requesting a directed verdict be given by the court on the six separate counts of murder charged to Harris, and renewed objections to have all evidence collected from the Pontiac while in the custody of JPD removed and stricken from the record.

Wykoff stated the belief that the chain of evidence had been broken because no law enforcement accompanied the vehicle while it was being transported. Cass County Circuit Judge Timothy J. Wessell ultimately denied both the motion and request for a directed verdict stating he believed the state had established a proper chain of evidence.

Harris elected his right to remain silent, and will not testify during the trial. After the jury returned to the courtroom, Wykoff said the defense rests its case on the people’s burden of proof to prove guilt.

Court will resume at 8:30 am Thursday with the jury scheduled to appear for closing arguments beginning at 9:15 am.