Man Resentenced in Murder of Officer
Police officers, deputies, detectives and investigators from many law-enforcement agencies filled rows of seats in Hoke County's high-ceilinged Superior Court to attend a special resentencing hearing for the man who murdered one of their own more than 20 years before.
Kerry L. Marston was convicted long ago in the murder of Detective Ed Harris. of the Southern Pines Police. On Thursday, Superior Court Judge B. Craig Ellis in effect repeated the life-plus-60-years decision he'd made two decades earlier, though based on different factors.
Harris lived not far from Aberdeen, just across the Hoke County line. On April 4, 1991, he got up from the chair in his den where he was enjoying a late supper and went to answer the door. His wife, Judy, and their teenage son, Anthony, heard him flipping on the outside light and turning the knob to open it. Then they heard the shots.
Bullets smashed storm-door glass and tore through its screen wire into the Southern Pines police officer's body, according to testimony and statements made in court Thursday. One struck his wife, severing a finger. She and her son rushed to find the policeman gasping for breath and dying from multiple gunshot wounds.
"Oh, God! Daddy! Oh, God!" the 17-year-old boy cried as he knelt by his father's side.
He and his wounded mother managed to get Harris into his patrol car and rushed him to the hospital, but he didn't make it, as Assistant District Attorney Michael Hardin told the court.
A jury would later find Marston guilty of first-degree murder and related charges, along with other suspects convicted in what law-enforcement officers to this day describe as the intentional assassination of a police officer.
"The attack was in retaliation for Ed's investigation into drug trafficking," his department says on its memorial to fallen officers. "He was relentless in the pursuit of drug pushers. Ed Harris died for the cause he was committed to - the fight to maintain law and order and the eradication of the cancer which feeds on society known as drugs."
Harris, 45, had served for 13 years as a member of the Hoke County Sheriff's Department before going to work for Southern Pines. Earlier in his career, he worked with the Aberdeen and Robbins police departments. Representatives of each of these agencies were in court Thursday. One young Fayetteville policeman who attended was Jeff Haddock, whose young sister, Emily Haddock, had herself been murdered.
Sheriff Lane Carter, his chief deputy, Neil Godfrey, Ronnie Fields and others from Carter's department joined Moore County District Attorney Maureen Krueger, her senior assistant prosecutor Peter Strickland, other Moore County prosecutors and officers from Aberdeen, Southern Pines, Fayetteville and Hoke County for the hearing in a show of support and respect for a fallen officer and his widow.
Harris' former partner sat in the front row next to Southern Pines Police Chief John Letteney. Other present and former town officers sat beside them.
Judy Harris sat alone at the prosecution table as Hardin made the case for the same life-plus-60-year sentence handed down at the original trial. Two successful appeals had sent the case back to its original court for this hearing on sentences for associated offenses. On the bench sat Ellis, the same judge who had presided then.
He recalled the case well, Ellis said. He'd also had the opportunity to review the transcript. As Defense Attorney Harold Carlin said during a break, this hearing was about his client's sentences on the related charges: assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury for wounding Judy Harris, discharging a weapon into an occupied building, and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
There was no issue with Marston's conviction and life sentence for the murder itself, but he was sentenced under old rules that allow parole and give credit for "good time" that could one day mean his release.
Hardin said the state would rely on only one aggravating factor: previous convictions for offenses carrying more than 60-day sentences. He described briefly the horrific events the night nine men drove to the Harris house, seven getting out of the car and letting two more out of the trunk before approaching the front door.
For the first time, Marston took the stand, testifying that he'd been drinking and had taken LSD. He described himself as a nondrinker who didn't take drugs and said he'd completed his education with a GED while in prison.
Carlin asked for a new sentence in the presumptive range, but Ellis was not persuaded. The judge found the aggravating factor outweighed a number of mitigating factors and sentenced him to serve 30 years on the murder conspiracy charge, another 20 for the assault, and 10 more for shooting into the home.
The sentences are to run consecutively to each other and to Marston's life sentence.
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