LAFAYETTE — An appellate court has upheld the conviction of a man found guilty last year in the 1989 killing of a young woman whose body was set afire to disguise the slaying.
The investigation into the death of Christine Marie Wood sat in the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office’s cold case files for years — until the state budgeted funds to revive unresolved sex cases.
On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal rejected seven trial deficiencies defendant Daniel Harmon said occurred during his trial last year, including claiming there was not enough evidence to convict him.
“For the jury to have convicted (Harmon) … it had to have found that the state established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant killed Ms. Wood and that (Harmon) either had the specific intent to kill her or inflict great bodily harm or that he committed the offense during the commission of another felony, including aggravated or forcible rape,” 3rd Circuit Judge Jimmie C. Peters wrote in the opinion.
Harmon’s attorney in the appeal, Edward Bauman, of the Louisiana Appellate Project, said he would not ask the Louisiana Supreme Court for a review of the 3rd Circuit’s decision. Bauman declined further comment.
Harmon, now 43, is serving life in prison after a 12-person jury decided 10-2 on April 30, 2013, that he was guilty of second-degree murder in Wood’s death on July 25, 1989.
Wood was 19 and living with her boyfriend in a second-floor Marigny Circle apartment. Harmon lived nearby with his girlfriend, though he was never questioned at the time by Lafayette Parish detectives.
Wood’s boyfriend was working offshore the night she was killed. Investigators determined her throat had been sliced through and that she had been shot in the head three times before her body was set on fire. Detectives also noted that Wood had been raped at some point during the assault. But the investigation yielded no prime suspects, and the case grew cold.
In 2003, following the murders by serial killer Derrick Todd Lee, the Louisiana Legislature came up with money to revive unresolved sex cases, including the Wood slaying.
DNA evidence collected from the scene was sent to a national database for sex offenders. The DNA came back as a match with Harmon, whose DNA had been placed into the Combined DNA Index System — CODIS — after he was convicted of rape in Tennessee in 1994.
Harmon’s trial jury deliberated for nine hours before returning with a 10-2 decision, enough in Louisiana to convict a person of second-degree murder. One of the jurors left the Lafayette Parish Courthouse in tears.
The hours the jury spent hashing out the verdict and the non-unanimous decision gave Harmon’s trial attorney, Alfred Boustany III, some hope the verdict could be overturned. On Wednesday, Boustany, who was not involved in Harmon’s appeal, declined to comment.
Roger Hamilton Jr., one of the prosecutors, said Wednesday that the District Attorney’s Office will continue to defend Harmon’s conviction. Hamilton said he would not comment on specifics in the case.