Suspect makes first appearance on Osage County murder charge

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James P. Harris, right, is escorted to court Thursday by Osage County Sheriff’s deputies.

LYNDON – An inmate in a federal prison was transported to Osage County Tuesday and made a first appearance this morning in Osage County District Court on a first degree murder charge.

Today, James P. Harris, 29, appeared before Osage County Magistrate Judge Taylor Wine to hear the murder charge that was filed by Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor in October.

The complaint accuses Harris of killing 50-year-old James E. Gerety between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011.

On March 24, 2012, a woman hunting mushrooms found a human body part lying on the ground about four miles northwest of Carbondale. Subsequent DNA testing on the body part identified Gerety as the victim, and investigation led to the determination that the manner of death was homicide, prosecutors reported during a press conference held Oct. 31, 2013.

The prosecutors said an arrest warrant had been served on Harris at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas, along with a detainer to keep him from being released before custody was transferred to Osage County. Harris’ scheduled release date from the Texarkana prison is April 17, 2014.

In court Thursday, Wine read the murder charge against Harris, noting the mandatory minimum penalty upon conviction is 25 years in prison and a possible fine up to $500,000. Wine said that due to the possibility of a jail sentence in the case, Harris was entitled to a court appointed attorney. The judge said he had requested attorney James Campbell to assist Harris after he was transported to Osage County, and Harris agreed to Campbell’s appointment as defense attorney. Campbell told the court he had already met with Harris since his arrival in Osage County.

Wine said Harris was being held on a 180-day detainer from federal custody, and the defendant was entitled to have a preliminary hearing on the charge within 14 days. The judge set the preliminary hearing for 9 a.m. March 14.

Harris was arrested on warrant with a $500,000 cash or surety bond and is being held in the Osage County Jail.

Federal court records show Harris pleaded guilty to one count of felon in possession of a firearm in U.S. District Court, in Topeka, on Aug. 6, 2012, and was sentenced to 30 months in custody of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

See related stories here and here.

See the complaint filed in Osage County District Court here.

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