A state court commissioner is recommending the dismissal of Greg Harris’ bid for a new trial in the savage 2009 stabbing death of his wife, lawyer Chiquita Tate, in her downtown Baton Rouge office.
Harris, who was found guilty of manslaughter at his 2011 second-degree murder trial, is serving a 40-year prison term.
After the Louisiana Supreme Court let his conviction and sentence stand in May 2013, Harris filed an application for post-conviction relief last May in the 19th Judicial District Court, where he was tried.
The East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office in October asked that Harris’ application be denied.
Harris, who maintains his innocence, raised seven claims in his petition, and 19th Judicial District Court Commissioner Quintillis Lawrence on Feb. 17 recommended that each one be dismissed.
“Commissioner Lawrence’s recommendation to deny relief on all claims is supported by the court record, and we believe that conclusion will be affirmed by the trial judge handling the case,” East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Thursday.
Harris’ attorney could not be reached for comment.
Harris contends, among other things, that neither state District Judge Trudy White nor any 19th Judicial District Court judge should have presided over the case, that he should not have been tried in East Baton Rouge and that he did not commit the brutal attack that left the 34-year-old Tate with 30-plus stab wounds inside the State National Life Building in February 2009.
Harris, citing witness statements, alleges the now-deceased brother of one of Tate’s former clients killed his wife. Denard Duheart, who died in 2013, is the brother of Dearius and Denako Duheart, who once were accused in the 2007 beating and burning death of Jason Fourmy in Baton Rouge. Charges against the two Duheart brothers and a third man in that case were ultimately dismissed after several witnesses were shot to death. Tate represented Denako Duheart in the Fourmy case.
“Factual innocence is listed as grounds for post conviction relief only in connection with DNA test results. …,” Lawrence wrote in recommending the dismissal of Harris’ claim of actual innocence.
Harris does not have DNA results that prove he is factually innocent of Tate’s killing, the commissioner said.
Harris also complains that White should have disqualified herself from the case because Tate was a student law clerk for the judge when she was on the Baton Rouge City Court bench.
But Lawrence points out that White disclosed that relationship well before Harris’ trial, during an April 2009 bail reduction hearing, and neither his attorneys nor prosecutors objected to White remaining on the case.
“This relationship, as described by the trial judge, does not warrant need of recusal,” the commissioner states. “Judge White further discloses that she did not receive an invitation to the victim’s law school graduation nor wedding, nor did she expect one. In the same hearing, she reported that she did not even attend the victim’s funeral.”
White did recuse herself from ruling on Harris’ post-conviction relief application, so the matter was randomly allotted to 19th Judicial District Court Judge Bonnie Jackson. Lawrence’s recommendation goes to Jackson.
Harris further argues in his petition that a police officer’s testimony about Tate’s account of a 2008 domestic dispute between herself and Harris should not have been allowed at his murder trial.
About six weeks before their February 2008 wedding, an emotional Tate made a 911 call to Baker police saying Harris had beaten and choked her at their home.
Lawrence said Harris cannot show there would have been a different outcome at the trial if his attorneys had objected to the officer’s testimony.
The commissioner also rejected Harris’ change of venue argument, in which Harris alleges he was convicted by a “highly biased, tainted jury” because of Tate’s status in the Baton Rouge legal community.
“Conclusory arguments concerning the existence of a tainted jury, made only after receiving an unfavorable verdict, is insufficient. …,” he wrote.
Tate’s body was found the morning of Feb. 20, 2009, after Harris called 911 and flagged down a patrolling police officer. He told police he went to his wife’s building to check on her after she did not come home from work the night before.
Prosecutors argued to the jury she did not make it home because Harris had killed her. In an effort to elude capture, they said, Harris put strands of hair in the open palm of her left hand to give the appearance her killer was a female. He also discarded his wife’s Gucci wallet in the crime-plagued Gardere Lane area in hopes an unsuspecting thief would use her credit cards and unwittingly become a murder suspect, prosecutors said.
Harris told police he was in the Gardere area the night his wife was killed, saying he went there to buy steroids but his supplier was not home.