Michelle Harris

Michelle Harris was arrested on second-degree murder in the 2013 killing of her 23-month-old daughter Zion.

A New Orleans judge on Monday dismissed the murder charge against a woman accused of killing her toddler daughter, finding that prosecutors had taken too long to try the case.

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Tracey Flemings-Davillier quashed the indictment of Michelle Harris, who was accused of killing 23-month-old Zion Harris in 2013.

The case was defined for the past year by a series of charges and dismissals by District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office, which hoped to keep the prosecution alive despite problems with a key witness.

Investigators said Harris kicked and whipped Zion inside her home in the 4100 block of Gibson Street on Sept. 24, 2013. The toddler died that day of blunt-force trauma, according to the coroner.

Several people had been looking after the young girl on the day of her death, including a truck driver who could not be located ahead of trial dates last year.

Defense attorneys Nandi Campbell and Sarah Chervinsky said the district attorney had waited too long to bring the case to trial. In September, they succeeded in winning Harris’ release after she had spent five years locked up.

In April they filed another motion, arguing that the charge against Harris should be outright dismissed because her right to a speedy trial had been violated.

Prosecutors countered that at least two years of the delays in the case were caused by eight continuances requested by the defense. They also argued that Harris was no longer being harmed by delays in the case since she had been released.

But the defense said the delays were largely caused by “purposeful, inexcusable delay tactics employed by the state.”

Faced with looming trial dates and their missing witness, prosecutors dismissed and then quickly reinstated charges against Harris and thus “circumvented” the court's legal deadlines, the defense lawyers argued.

Flemings-Davillier sided with the defense. However, a prosecutor on Tuesday filed a notice of intent to appeal her ruling to the state 4th Circuit Court of Appeal.


Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.