Harris sentenced to 50 months for involuntary manslaughter


James P. Harris at his sentencing hearing in Osage County District Court. Photo by Thad Allton, The Topeka Capital-Journal.

LYNDON – With time off for good behavior, a Carbondale man could serve less than three years in state prison for his involvement in the death of a victim whose skull was found by a mushroom hunter three years ago.

James P. Harris, 30, who was originally charged with first degree murder in the death of 49-year-old James E. Gerety, was sentenced Monday to 50 months in prison after he was convicted of involuntary manslaughter at a December plea hearing. At that hearing, Harris’ plea of no contest to involuntary manslaughter cancelled a jury trial on the murder charge that was scheduled for January.

In the original charge against Harris, prosecutors alleged Harris killed Gerety sometime between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011. Gerety’s death was discovered after part of his skull was found in March 2012 by a woman hunting mushrooms near her residence in rural Carbondale. Prosecutors revealed during Harris’ preliminary hearing in March 2014 that the skull was the only part of Gerety’s body that had been recovered.

Appearing before Osage County Chief Judge Phillip Fromme on Monday, Harris offered no statement before he was sentenced. Fromme noted that a pre-sentence investigation showed Harris had a criminal history score that placed the sentence for the crime at 50 to 55 months, and a plea agreement had called for Harris to receive the lowest sentence applicable on the state sentencing grid.

Fromme asked Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones if he had any comment on the sentence, and Jones said he did not. According to the plea agreement, Jones had agreed to not oppose the lower sentence.

Fromme told Harris he would be eligible for 15 percent reduction in his sentence for good behavior and he would receive credit for time already served. Harris has been held in the Osage County Jail since his arrest in March 2014, or about 13 months.

At the time of Harris’ arrest, he was an inmate in a federal correctional institution at Texarkana, Texas, serving a sentence for a weapons violation. Harris listed a rural Carbondale address when he was booked into the Osage County Jail.

During Monday’s hearing, Harris’ attorney James Campbell said the federal charge against Harris had been vacated after he had served the sentence.

As part of Harris’ sentence on the involuntary manslaughter charge he will be required to register as a violent offender for 15 years and will be under supervision for two years following his release from prison. Fromme told Harris he would be responsible for court costs, fingerprinting fee, DNA database fee, and indigent defense service fee, totaling $528, but waived attorney’s fees for Harris’ court appointed attorney.

Fromme also approved Jones’ request for reimbursement to the Osage County Sheriff’s Office for transportation costs of $658.80 for bringing Harris to Osage County from Texarkana.

One witness at the preliminary hearing testified that Harris was involved in voodoo, kept a voodoo doll effigy of the victim, and kept the victim’s head in a bag at a residence in Topeka. During a motions hearing in October, Fromme granted a defense motion to exclude evidence about the defendant’s religious practices unless it had a relationship to the alleged crime or commission of a crime.

In entering the no contest plea to involuntary manslaughter in December, Harris did not admit to the crime, but his attorney, Campbell, offered a factual basis for the plea.

“During the time Mr. Gerety was presumed to be a missing person … various individuals would testify during that time that Mr. Harris made statements that he had in fact been the cause of Mr. Gerety’s death,” Campbell said.

Campbell said with facts presented in the case “a jury could certainly find by that direct and circumstantial evidence that Mr. Gerety was in fact killed, that it was done in a reckless manner, and my client could have completed that …”

See related story here.

2 Responses to Harris sentenced to 50 months for involuntary manslaughter

  1. minnie mouse says:

    Sounds about right, remember people this is Osage county. Remember when you vote for county attorney !!! Mickey Mouse would do a better job.

  2. raymond hendrix says:

    what a farce you kill someone and all that happens is 50 months in jail the value our system places on a life has deminished our value as the human race this man was covicted of stalking being a felon with fire arms beleaves in voodoo hangs voodoo dolls in his dads front yard how do i know i was 1 of them hanging in that tree these people are meth heads hat lost thier minds i know all of my statement wont be published so much for the freedom of speech on this site i was lisatd as a witness in this trial and was kidnappe at gun point by james because i was a friend of his dads i let james off the hook i now think it was a mistake on my part

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