July 17, 1997 in City

Ex-Condemned Man Granted Supervision Slayer May Go To A Group Home, Then Find A Job

Associated Press

A former death row inmate whose conviction was overturned needs mental health supervision but not through commitment to a mental institution, a jury ruled Wednesday.

The Pierce County Superior Court panel rejected the state’s move to commit Benjamin Harris III, 50, for at least three months of treatment and evaluation at Western State Hospital in Steilacoom.

At the same time, the jury ruled that Harris could not go free.

He remains at Western State, where he has been for a year and a half.

Under the intermediate option chosen by the panel, a hearing was set for July 30 to determine how Harris will be supervised.

The Pierce County Regional Support Network is being asked to propose a group home or other program for Harris, who may then be able to look for a job.

Subjects like Harris typically must take prescribed medications, avoid alcohol and make no threats to the health or welfare of others, assistant attorney general Laura Wulf said. They are also barred by state law from possessing firearms.

Wulf said she did not know of any grounds for an appeal. Michael S. Clark, a lawyer for Harris, did not return a call to his office for comment.

In 1969 Harris killed a man in a case that was determined to be self-defense.

Fifteen years later, he was convicted of hiring Gregory “Gay Gay” Bonds to kill Jimmy Lee Turner, a mechanic, for $1,000 over a car repair dispute and was sentenced to death.

His mental state was an issue. The case was allowed to proceed only after Western State officials said Harris was competent to stand trial.

He denied hiring anyone to commit murder but testified that he and Bonds went to Turner’s home. He said he and Bonds, now dead, each fired once at Turner from the same gun.

© Copyright 1997 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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