HOUSTON -- Jurors in the capital murder trial of Harlem Harold Lewis III watched graphic video in court Tuesday of the suspect’s point blank murders of a Bellaire police officer and an innocent bystander.
But defense attorneys say they hope the jurors also see a young man who panicked and deserves life in prison not execution.
Prosecutors played several surveillance and dash cam videos for the jury on the second day of the capital murder trial. But Judge Mark Kent Ellis ordered windows to the courtroom closed so that news media cameras could not reveal what slain Bellaire Corporal Jimmie Norman’s patrol car camera captured the morning of December 24, 2012.
He deemed it too graphic for publication. But jurors, news media, and the courtroom audience watched as Norman’s camera captured his first attempt at a traffic stop with Lewis. The then 21-year-old pulled over at a stop sign and opened his car door but refused to get out of the car. He sped away as the officer reached for the car door.
In the chase that followed Lewis’ car side swipes a pickup truck. Enraged by the hit and run, the driver of that pickup truck joins the chase putting himself between the officer and the suspect. The chase ends in the parking lot of MAACO body shop where the officer jumps out and runs to the side of Lewis’ car.
Again he refuses to get out of the car so Norman reaches into the car to grab him through the open driver’s side door. They two struggle for more than 40 seconds as Lewis repeatedly says “I need to call my phone” as if he is reaching for a cell phone. Instead he pulls out a gun, a single shot is heard, and the Bellaire officer falls onto his back on the pavement, a bullet wound through his jaw that exited near his right temple.
Then Lewis stands up and gets out of the car, straddles the slain officer’s body and fires a second shot, hitting Terry Taylor, 66, the owner of the MAACO body shop who ran out of his shop to help the officer. Then Lewis is seen raising his run to aim at other officers arriving on the scene. He flees after an exchange of gunfire and is captured in a foot chase minutes later. Corporal Norman is rushed to a hospital but dies. Terry Taylor was pronounced dead at the scene.
Jurors were clearly shocked by some of the video. Several of the jurors appeared driven to tears. Lewis at times also lowered his head and cried. But prosecutors say the video proves Lewis intended to kill, twice, and that he deserves the death penalty.
Defense attorneys, who have not yet started to present their case, say they hope to find enough sympathy in the jury to get Lewis sentenced to life in prison instead. Defense attorney Tyrone Moncriffe says Lewis had learned a deep distrust of police from his family, had been instructed to immediately call his father first if he was ever pulled over by police, and that on that Christmas Eve morning he panicked.
“What we’re hoping for, when they (the jury) look at our client that they see a frightened young man who was cornered and makes a tragic mistake but doesn’t need to be executed,” said defense attorney Patrick McCann.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, who is prosecuting the case herself, says she will not comment until the case is over. Her decision to prosecute the case herself makes good on the promise of her late husband, former Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson, who vowed to prosecute the most serious capital murder cases himself.
Fellow Bellaire Police officers also revealed in testimony Tuesday, and as was clearly evident in the dash cam video, that Corporal Jimmie Norman never even pulled his gun. It was still strapped in his holster.
The prosecution continues presenting its case on Wednesday.