Jury deadlocks on murder charge

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 1, 2002


HAHNVILLE – A LaPlace man’s trial for second-degree murder ended abruptly this week when the 12-person jury failed to reach a verdict after five hours of deliberation.

Lee “Chicago” James, 24, may face a retrial by August, according to a source familiar with the case. The jury, which required 10 votes to convict, told 29th Judicial District Judge Emile St. Pierre they were “hopelessly deadlocked.”

James was on trial for the drive-by shooting death on Nov. 6, 2000 of Anthony “Tony” Harmon, 20. It was St. Charles Parish’s fourth homicide of that year.

A status conference was set by St. Pierre for May 30 at 10 a.m. to determine the possible future prosecution of James.

Initially, Corey Reese, 20, of 605 Franklin Court, LaPlace, was arrested after an eyewitness placed him in the suspect vehicle, a white, four-door Ford Tempo. At 8:45 p.m. on Nov. 6, 2000 witnesses told police they spotted the car go past the victims who were standing in the 200 block of St. Charles Street.

Minutes later, the witnesses related, Reese and the then-unidentified driver passed again. This time, according to some accounts, Reese extended his arm out the passenger side window, pointed a small-caliber handgun at the victims, and fired several times.

Anthony Harmon, 20, of 539 Giacomo St., Norco, and Laqueena Hunter, 27, of 143 J.B. Green Road, Des Allemands, were struck by bullets. Harmon was hit three times in the chest, one penetrating his heart. He died soon after at St. Charles Parish Hospital in Luling.

Hunter received a gunshot wound to her leg.

The vehicle was located later at Reese’s residence when Reese was arrested and he was later booked with first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder.

Reese’s Ford Explorer was allegedly vandalized several days ago and the shooting might have been in retaliation for the burglary.

James’s defense attorney, Mark Marino, stressed that Reese had confessed and was motivated and capable of the shooting, while James had no motivation.

However, Detective Chad Robicheaux’s investigation determined several problems with that scenario, not the least problem being Reese’s physical capability to accurately fire a handgun.

Reese, severely burned in a fire when he was eight years old, has severely scarred and damaged hands and arms and a badly scarred face. The hands themselves have gnarled nubs of fingers.

Soon after his arrest, Reese confessed to the shooting, but Robicheaux did not believe him and kept looking, and arrested James several days later. At the trial, Reese said that while he drove (using his wrists to guide the steering wheel), James fired a .25-caliber handgun several times out the passenger side window.

Marino attempted to discredit the testimony and pointed out a plea agreement worked out prior to trial which would give him a 10-year sentence as an accessory to second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony implicating James.

Prosecutor Kurt Sins had Reese attempt to hold and fire the suspect weapon in court. At one point, Marino asked Robicheaux why he did not bring Reese to a firing range to determine if he was physically able to do so. Robicheaux responded he would not hand a loaded firearm to a any felony suspect in his custody.

Aaron Smith, an eyewitness to the incident, said he heard and saw the gun flashes as he was bicycling in the neighborhood with his two young nephews. Upon doing so, he immediately jumped in a ditch with one nephew while shouting to the other to do the same.

Smith said he did see the suspect car go by with Reese driving.

Marino then painted a scenario that Reese stopped the car, leaned across the reclining (and allegedly dozing) James, fired the shots and was able to escape.

“I was dozing off when I heard the gunshots,” he testified.

James had earlier testified he knew nothing of Reese’s plan to shoot anyone, and he had the seat back and was dozing until the time the shots were fired. They then returned to LaPlace without talking to each other about it.

Arveria James, 21, Lee James’ sister, testified she saw Reese earlier use a handgun to successfuly shoot soft drink cans from atop a back yard fence 15-20 feet away. “I was shocked to see Corey shoot a gun,” she said.

Lee James took the stand and did admit to being in the car when the shooting happened. Afterward, he told Corey to “take me home” because “I didn’t want to be a part of it.”

He denied firing or holding any gun that night. As for the victim, James said of Harmon, “I don’t even know the guy.”

James also attempted to claim he was “kicked out of my chair and beaten” by Robicheaux during initial questioning. Later booked into the jail, there were no visible signs of any such beating of the heavy-set James by the short, slender Robicheaux.

James also allegedly called his employer, while Robicheaux was interviewing her, and told her to adjust his time sheet to show he was working at the time of the shooting. The call was overheard by Robicheaux, he testified.

In closing arguments, Sins pointed out both Reese and James had lied repeatedly in various statements, but also pointed out the physical improbability that Reese could have fired the weapon as described, therefore the shooter had to be James.

Marino’s closing argument stressed Reese’s lies, but stressed, “It’s not about who told the truth. This case was so messed up, jumbled up and perverted.”

He concluded, “When you look at Corey Reese’s credibility, It falls way short.”

Sins’ final statement included his comment regarding the plea agreement with Reese, and he said, “I made a deal with the sinner to get the devil.”

Nevertheless, the jury deliberated to no conclusion. The panel was given the case at 5 p.m. and returned at one point for a written definition of second-degree murder and manslaughter, the two alternatives on which they could convict.

They returned at 8:20 p.m. to say they were deadlocked, and St. Pierre ordered them to “try again.”

They returned just before 10 p.m. and St. Pierre dismissed them.

Tony Harmon’s extended family sat throughout the two-day trial and waited for the verdict in the office of District Attorney Harry Morel.

After the deadlocked jury was dismissed, Lisa Harmon, the victim’s mother, could only say amid her quiet tears, “What is there to say?”

As Marino said during his closing argument, “Justice won’t be done today.”