Jury trial set for murder suspect

033114-harrisJames P. Harris is escorted to the Osage County Jail Monday after pleading not guilty to a charge of first degree murder.

James P. Harris, accused of murdering a 49-year old man in 2011, will have a jury trial after entering a not guilty plea Monday in Osage County District Court.

Appearing before Osage County Chief Judge Phillip M Fromme yesterday, Harris’ attorney James Campbell entered the plea on his client’s behalf, asking that the case be set for jury trial.

With Campbell saying the defense waived a formal reading of the complaint, Fromme questioned Harris about whether he understood the charge of first degree murder that had been filed against him. Harris responded that he did.

Harris is accused of murdering 49-year-old James E. Gerety sometime between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011, in Osage County.

During a preliminary hearing held March 14, two witnesses testified that Harris had told them he had killed Gerety. A former girlfriend testified that Harris told her he had cut off Gerety’s head with a guitar string and kept the victim’s head in a bag.

Gerety’s skull was found by a woman hunting mushrooms in March 2012 on property near Carbondale where Harris had resided. The skull was identified as Gerety’s through DNA testing. His body has not been recovered.

During yesterday’s hearing, Fromme noted that Harris was being held on a detainer from the federal corrections facility in Texarkana, Texas, and that he had invoked his right to a speedy trial, which required the trial to be held within 90 days of arraignment.

Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones said Harris was eligible for release from the federal prison in April, at which time he would remain in custody of Osage County. Harris is being held in the Osage County Jail on $500,000 bond.

Fromme set June 23 as the date of the jury trial, and after noting there were 39 witnesses on the witness list, allowed a week and half on the court’s calendar for the proceeding. Fromme also set a motion hearing for June 2.

The court also heard a request from Campbell to obtain records from an attorney who represented Gerety before his disappearance and death. Campbell said he was seeking information about the dates and times that Gerety’s attorney had met with him. Fromme denied the request, advising Campbell he could depose the witness to learn the information he was seeking.

Also during the arraignment, Fromme ordered a witness who was present in the courtroom, Regina Clark, to appear at the jury trial. Co-prosecutor Jacqie Spradling, of the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, confirmed that Clark’s transportation and lodging fees during the trial would be paid by the state. Campbell said Clark had been arrested at her home in Ohio on a Kansas warrant.

The Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office is assisting in the prosecution due to Shawnee County law enforcement’s investigation into Gerety’s disappearance before it was learned he was deceased.

See related story here.

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