After hearing impassioned pleas for both justice and leniency, a judge sentenced Greg Harris to the maximum 40 years in prison Friday in the 2009 stabbing death of his wife — lawyer Chiquita Tate — in her downtown Baton Rouge office.
“You took the life of a legal warrior. You took the life of a gifted lawyer. You took a life that was not yours to take,’’ state District Judge Trudy White told a shackled Harris, who wore an orange-and-white prison jumpsuit.
Harris, 40, of Baker, was convicted April 9 of manslaughter in the Feb. 20, 2009, slaying of Tate, 34. She was stabbed 43 times.
Tate’s sisters and brothers told White through testimony or via letters that Harris deserved no mercy.
“I just can’t believe she’s gone. Why did you take my sister’s life?’’ a sobbing Robin Tate, the oldest of seven siblings, asked Harris during Friday’s emotional sentencing hearing.
Prosecutor Prem Burns read letters from some of Tate’s siblings, in which they stated they have not deleted their sister’s phone number from their cellular phones.
Danita Tate Joseph, who sat in green prison clothes just a few feet from Harris, said in her letter that she still rings her sister’s number in hopes that it will be answered.
Joseph, who testified at Harris’ trial, was convicted June 1 of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and sentenced Sept. 21 to six years in prison.
Harris’ mother, father, two siblings and two cousins told White that Harris is innocent and begged for leniency.
The sentencing hearing was conducted under heavy security. Harris’ family had reacted angrily inside and outside the courtroom after the April verdict.
“Greg did not kill your sister,’’ Harris’ mother, Joyce Henderson, told Tate’s siblings who were seated in the courtroom across the aisle from the Harris family Friday.
“If it takes the rest of my life until my dying days, I’m going to find out who did.’’
“Ms. Burns, I think y’all got it wrong. You’re about to send an innocent man to jail,’’ Harris’ father, Silver Harris, told the prosecutor.
Harris’ former employer, David Arrighi Sr., told the judge that Harris — a carpenter — was “one of the good guys.’’
Burns painted an entirely different and much-darker picture of Harris.
She said the Tate killing was more premeditated, cruel, calculated and heinous than any first-degree murder case she has prosecuted in nearly four decades as a prosecutor.
Burns reminded White that strands of woman’s hair were placed in Tate’s hands to make it appear her attacker was a female, and that her wallet was discarded in the Gardere Lane area in hopes that an “unsuspecting thief’’ would use her credit cards and unwittingly become a murder suspect.
Harris acknowledged to police that he was in the Gardere Lane area the night his wife was murdered, but said he went there to buy steroids.
“You concocted an elaborate ruse to throw suspicion off yourself,’’ the judge told Harris, adding that he “cleaned up’’ at the couple’s home and made “cover-up calls’’ to Tate’s office and cell phone.
Burns, referring to Tate’s marriage certificate, said Tate “signed her own death certificate’’ when she married Harris in February 2008 — one year before her death.
Burns also said Harris left behind a trail of battered women from 1997 to 2009.
“This is an abusive pattern of physical behavior,’’ she argued.
Burns also noted that Harris has never taken responsibility for his actions in the killing of Tate.
“There can be no closure because of the brutality. There is grief. There is rubbing salt in the wound because there is no remorse,’’ she said.
Harris’ lead attorney, Lewis Unglesby, asked the judge for “understanding and mercy’’ and for a sentence less than the maximum.
“Mr. Harris has expressed numerous times his sorrow and sadness over what happened to his wife,’’ Unglesby told the judge.
Burns argued Harris received the “greatest gift’’ he has ever received when a jury found him guilty of manslaughter rather than second-degree murder, which carries an automatic sentence of life in prison.
Burns, who called the verdict “incorrect,” said Harris did not deserve another gift in the form of any leniency from White.
“The hands that should have protected that female are the ones that took her life,’’ Burns argued.
“You are the last voice to speak for her. You are Chiquita Patrece Tate’s last chance for justice,’’ she told the judge.
Harris was accused of stabbing Tate in her third-floor office at the State National Life Building on Third Street where it intersects with Florida Street.
Tate’s body was found the morning of Feb. 20, 2009, after Harris called 911 and flagged down a police officer on patrol.
Harris told police he went to the building to check on his wife after she did not come home from work the night before.
Burns argued to the jury that Tate did not come home from work that night because Harris killed her, putting an end to what she called the couple’s “very short troubled marriage.’’
Burns told reporters Friday that she stood over Tate’s dead body at the crime scene and promised she would do all she could to bring the killer to justice.
“They’re (murders) all personal, but this one particularly,’’ she said. “Seeing Chiquita like that. It truly bothered me.’’