LAFAYETTE — The jury in Danny Harmon Jr.’s murder trial deliberated late Tuesday before convicting the 42-year-old for the 1989 second-degree murder of Christine Marie Wood, who was raped then shot before her body and bedroom were set on fire.
The 12-member jury went behind closed doors at 10:23 a.m. after closing arguments on the trial’s fifth day and emerged nine hours later with the 10-2 verdict, which carries an automatic life prison sentence with no parole in Louisiana.
Judge Glennon Everett set sentencing for Harmon on May 30.
Lead prosecutor Roger Hamilton Jr. thanked police and Wood’s family for having the patience to wait almost 24 years for a resolution. “We believe it is a just verdict,” the prosecutor said.
“We believe the right man is being sent to prison for life,” Hamilton said. “And the state will vigorously defend the verdict in appellate court.”
Evidence expert Carolyn Booker testified that the odds of DNA evidence from semen found in Wood’s body not belonging to Harmon were less than 1 in 350 million.
Harmon’s attorney, Alfred Boustany II, lamented Louisiana’s requirement that only 10 of 12 jurors are needed to convict in a second-degree murder trial. He said only Oregon shares the requirement with Louisiana.
Boustany noted the length of time the jury deliberated and also said he would appeal Harmon’s conviction.
“That’s the longest I think a jury has stayed out in Lafayette Parish that anybody can remember,” Boustany said. “They were obviously having a problem with the verdict.”
In closing arguments, Hamilton said, “He raped her.”
“Look at this noose,” Hamilton said, showing the jury a crime scene photo. “Why do you put a noose on somebody? You want to control them. … When he wanted to shut her up, he put three bullets in her head.”
Boustany told jurors there was plenty of reasonable doubt to free his client: None of Harmon’s fingerprints were found in the bedroom where Wood died; there were witnesses who testified that other men confessed to the crime; and detectives never collected DNA swabs of other men who lived near Wood and the Marigny Circle area of Lafayette Parish.
The trial featured two and a half days of testimony, during which Harmon did not testify.
Witness testimony painted Wood as a promiscuous 19-year-old woman.
Donald Bearb, now 45, said he had sex with Wood.
Wood’s live-in boyfriend, Gary Cheramie, who was offshore on July 25, 1989, acknowledged under questioning from Boustany that he and Wood had fought over her involvement with another man.
Boustany also attacked key parts of prosecutors’ case, including questioning how the DNA evidence was handled during collection, labeling and storing.
Boustany also asked why police didn’t test the DNA of others, including Bearb.
Others not tested included Michael Dickerson, Boustany said.
Dickerson is serving 40 years in prison in Concordia Parish for a 1989 rape that occurred a few months after Wood was killed. Dickerson testified Monday that another man — not Harmon — told Dickerson he had killed Wood. And a woman who said she had been Dickerson’s 14-year-old lover in 1989 testified that Dickerson confessed to her that he had killed Wood.
“Your search for the truth in this case has to include everything, good or bad …,” Boustany told jurors.
Daniel Harmon Sr. has attended each day of his son’s trial. Outside the courtroom Tuesday, he said he questioned the way police handled the DNA evidence, which was Harmon Jr.’s only link to Wood’s death.
“Everything hinges on one thing, DNA. … DNA is not an exact science unless things are done right,” said Harmon Sr., who lives in Beaumont, Texas. He said his son’s case is one of fouled-up police work.
“Let’s not say it was intentional, but the method of analysis wasn’t there. And chain of custody was a problem,” Harmon Sr. said.
The murder of Wood was for years a cold case for the Lafayette Parish Sheriff’s Office when the Louisiana Legislature in the early 2000s approved money for unsolved crimes.
In 2006, DNA evidence from Wood’s body was identified as coming from Harmon, who lived with his girlfriend and child near Wood in 1989. Harmon Jr.’s DNA profile was identified because he was a convicted felon and on a national database. He is a tier 3 sex offender, convicted of aggravated kidnapping and rape in Tennessee in 1994.