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Patrick Harris

Other Louisiana exonerations
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Late in the evening of March 24, 2016, police were called to the home of 39-year-old Patrick Harris in Bossier City, Louisiana, after Harris fatally shot his 40-year-old friend, Christopher Flowers. Harris said he shot in self-defense after Flowers attacked him. The police charged him with manslaughter.

In August 2019, Harris went to trial in Bossier Parish District Court. He chose to have a judge hear the case without a jury. The evidence presented showed that Harris and Flowers had worked together for AT&T for about 15 years and had begun to spend time socializing outside of work in 2013. They went to sporting events and barbecued together. Harris considered Flowers to be like a brother.

But in October 2013, Flowers, then separated from his wife, began an affair with Harris’s wife, Aftan. The relationship was still a secret when New Year’s Eve rolled around. Harris and his wife were invited to a party at the home of Sarah and Stephen McCann. At Harris’s request, Flowers was invited because otherwise he would have been alone.

During the party, Flowers and Harris, both of whom were about 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed about 230 pounds, decided to “play wrestle” on a trampoline. During their tussle, Harris wound up face down and Flowers put him in a chokehold. Harris tried to tap out, but Flowers refused to stop. Finally, Stephen McCann got onto the trampoline and pulled Flowers off.

In the new year, Harris learned about the affair. On February 15, he and Flowers met at a Chili’s restaurant in Shreveport to discuss how they were going to go forward at work in light of the affair. Harris would later admit he had drunk about 12 beers before they met. They both drank mixed drinks at Chili’s and the conversation became heated. Eventually, they got so loud, they were asked to leave. Outside, the men continued to have words and, according to Harris, Flowers threw him to the ground when Harris refused Flowers’s offer of a ride home.

According to testimony, a person identifying himself as “Chris” called 911 and said he had “assaulted” Harris. Harris said he blacked out, although the incident report said personnel at the scene found him standing and there was no indication that Harris reported he lost consciousness.

The medical reports said Harris expressed suicidal thoughts and that after he was taken to the hospital, he was transferred from the emergency room to an intensive care unit because of violent behavior and alcohol abuse. A physician wrote that Harris’s alcohol level was .263, more than three times the legal limit. Harris was released the following day with a sling for a fractured elbow and instructions to see an orthopedic physician.

The elbow ultimately required two surgeries that included placement of plates, screws and a prosthetic radial head. Harris was on disability for about six months and returned to work in 2014. He was granted a transfer to a different job location for eight weeks and then returned to his old job in Shreveport.

The next two years were uneventful between Flowers and Harris. At one point, Harris had pawned some firearms to secure a loan that was necessitated because his income was reduced while on short-term disability. When Flowers found out, he paid $3,000 to the pawn shop to get the guns back to Harris and told him to repay the loan when Harris had the money.

On the day of the shooting, March 24, 2016, Harris was again on short-term disability because of surgery to repair a condition on his eyelids. That afternoon, Harris and Aftan and some of her co-workers met at a restaurant. Harris had a margarita, two beers and two shots of alcohol. On the way home, he stopped at a bank.

That evening, Harris went to Flowers’s apartment to repay part of the loan. While there, Harris showed Flowers a Taurus .38-caliber revolver. When Flowers finished looking at it, Harris put the gun in his pants pocket.

Harris asked about getting some marijuana and Flowers contacted a co-worker, James Young. They agreed to meet later. Harris went home, stopping on the way to pick up dinner for Aftan and their two children.

After dinner, Flowers picked up Harris and they drove to Young’s residence, arriving about 9 p.m. They stayed there for less than an hour, drinking a beer and playing with Young’s dogs. They did not smoke any of the marijuana. Young testified that there was no apparent tension between Flowers and Harris—both hugged Young when they left.

Evidence showed that while Flowers and Harris were returning to Harris’s home, Daniel Lenard arrived at the Harrises subdivision to meet Aaron Daniel, one of the neighbors. Lenard had been instructed to park near the corner where Daniel lived and he came to a stop near the Harris family driveway. Aftan came out to ask what he was doing. As Lenard was explaining, Flowers pulled his Corvette in front of Lenard’s vehicle. Flowers got out, leaving the engine running. He stood in front of Lenard’s car and put his hands on the hood.

Harris approached the passenger side of Lenard’s vehicle and asked what he was doing, noting that pulling up like Lenard did was “a good way to get shot.”

At about that time, Aaron Daniel arrived and vouched for Lenard. He commented that Aftan needed to control her husband. Flowers then touched Harris on the arm and told him to go inside. Lenard and Daniel then drove off in Lenard’s vehicle.

Harris began to scold his wife for not telling Lenard to leave. Harris and Aftan said that at that point, Flowers grabbed Harris from his shirt and began pounding on Harris’s chest. Harris managed to break free and run toward the garage. But, according to Harris, Flowers caught him, threw him to the ground, stood over him, and began punching him.

Harris said Aftan was trying to pull Flowers away from behind. Harris said he was trying to protect his head because of his recent eyelid surgery, but Flowers continued to punch him in the head, arms and body.

Harris said he rolled to his left and drew his revolver from his right pocket. He pointed it at Flowers and told him to stop and leave. However, Harris said Flowers came toward him and reached for the gun. Harris testified that Flowers said that Harris knew what Flowers would do to him and that Harris had better shoot him.

Harris said that he feared Flowers was going to grab the gun and would surely kill him if that happened. Harris said that Flowers was not standing erect at his feet when he fired. He said Flowers was reaching for the gun. Harris fired five times. Harris said he thought he had missed because momentarily Flowers didn’t move. But then, Flowers fell backwards. “It was a…horrifying situation,” Harris said.

Harris dropped the gun into the grass.

Aftan testified to the same series of events. She said that at one point, Harris was in a fetal position as Flowers struck him repeatedly. She said she pleaded with Flowers to stop. She said she managed to pull Flowers back enough so that Harris got out the pistol. She said Flowers yelled, “Shoot me, [obscenity]!” She said that as he said those words, he was leaning forward, reaching for the gun. She said Harris fired when Flowers lunged at him.

She said she tried to help Flowers on the ground and then called 911. Flowers died.

Harris was taken to the police station where, during an interview, he admitted that he shot Flowers, but insisted he feared for his life.

Dr. Frank Peretti, who performed Flowers’s autopsy, testified that he was unable to determine the sequence in which the shots were fired. One bullet entered the right side of the neck, went through the spinal cord, and ended in the left side of the neck. That shot would have immediately incapacitated Flowers. Another bullet grazed Flowers’s right interior forearm, just above the thumb side of the wrist, and then entered the right side of the chest. The bullet lodged in the right lung. Dr. Peretti could not determine whether the thumb was facing up or down when the wound was received. He also could not tell whether the wound was received when Flowers was actually reaching for something. However, because the wound went across the wrist, he agreed this meant the hand would not have been pointed in the direction of the weapon. He thought the wrist wound was consistent with a defensive position, even though he could not characterize it as one, and the wrist would have been in front of Flowers’s chest when the bullet struck. That shot did not lead to a fatal wound immediately. Flowers would have been able to continue moving if that was the first shot. The third bullet was to the left upper chest but did not enter the chest cavity. It was a flesh wound and the bullet ended in the shoulder. A fourth bullet caused a flesh wound in the back without entering the chest. Flowers would have remained ambulatory after receiving those two wounds, Peretti testified.

Peretti said that a fifth bullet entered the subcutaneous tissue on the back of the neck and hit the occipital skull bone. Although that bullet did not enter the brain, the impact from it caused subarachnoid hemorrhaging. That injury would have immediately incapacitated Flowers. Peretti said that Flowers would not have remained standing after that shot or after the shot that struck his spinal cord. Peretti said Flowers’s hands would have dropped immediately if raised at the time the bullet struck his spinal cord.

Peretti did not find any burn or powder marks around the wounds or any evidence of close-range firing on the skin. He concluded that the wounds were all from shots fired no closer than 24 inches away. He said all of the bullets were fired at an upward trajectory, though he could not determine precise angles. Peretti agreed that impact from a bullet could move a body some, but did not know whether it did and to what extent.

A toxicology report showed that Flowers had antidepressants within therapeutic range in his system. His alcohol levels were .078 in his blood [the legal limit is .08], .093 in his vitreous fluid, and .155 in his urine.

Richard Beighley, the firearm section supervisor of the North Louisiana Crime Lab, testified as an expert for the prosecution. He said he examined a long-sleeve shirt that Flowers was wearing when shot. There were eight holes. Using a stereomicroscope, Beighley looked at areas around each of the holes for gunpowder residue. He said he did not find any type of gunpowder residue in the area of any hole. Beighley said that the absence of a gunpowder pattern on the shirt precluded him from making a more definite determination of distance. He said that a rule of thumb he sometimes utilized for a .38-caliber pistol was that there would be a pattern present if the gun was fired within three feet of the target, and there would be traces of gunpowder present if it was fired beyond three feet and up to six feet away. He said he would probably not find any gunpowder residue if the .38 was fired from more than six feet away.

Beighley said that although he did not find a pattern, he did find a total of ten partially burned or unburned gunpowder particles. Four of those particles were discovered on the examination paper while he was handling the shirt. The other six particles were found after he performed a debris collection from the shirt. He said he did not consider 10 particles of gunpowder to be much considering that five shots were fired. He said he believed that he would have found considerably more than 10 particles of gunpowder if the gun had been fired three feet away, or at arm's length.

However, he also said he would not have expected to find any gunpowder on the shirt whatsoever if the distance had been more than six feet as gunpowder from a .38 would not travel beyond six feet.

Beighley concluded that in order to get the 10 particles of gunpowder that he found, at least one shot was fired less than six feet away from Flowers, and it could have been as close as three feet.

Owen McDonnell, an expert in crime scene analysis, testified for the defense that he reviewed the police reports, the statements of witnesses and Harris, the physical evidence and measurements taken at the scene of the shooting.

Aftan had testified that Harris's wallet and pack of cigarettes fell out of his pocket during the melee. The wallet and pack of cigarettes were found 3.9 feet from the revolver. The pack of cigarettes appeared to be crushed, which McDonnell thought could have occurred when someone fell on them. A loose cigarette was also found in the grass.

McDonnell believed that the distribution of the wallet, gun, and cigarettes on the grass was consistent with an altercation in the front yard. The position of the revolver was also consistent with Harris's statement that he was on his back and deposited the gun out to his side after he finished firing it.

McDonnell reviewed photos of Harris taken by police after the shooting. McDonnell noted that Harris's polo shirt showed some stretching around the neckline, as well as wrinkles and other stretched areas. Harris had a slight redness to his chest. McDonnell thought the chest redness and shirt wrinkling were consistent with Flowers grabbing Harris by the front of his shirt and pounding him in the chest. McDonnell also noted a scrape on Harris's left shin and scrape marks on the inside of his right knee and right upper leg.

Harris was wearing cargo shorts at the time and McDonnell noted grass stains on the shorts in three areas. He said stains along the right cargo pocket were consistent with someone lying on their side. There was also a grass stain on the left front side in the area of a cargo pocket which McDonnell said was consistent with the left pocket coming into contact with the grass.

The stains were separate and were consistent with Harris's statement that he was on his right side and that he fell to the front at one point. Finally, there were grass stains that stopped at the top of the back of the shorts on one side. McDonnell testified that the stains on the back were lineal, which showed they could have been caused by contact with grass during a rocking movement. He believed this stain was consistent with Harris's statement that he rotated to his back.

McDonnell noted a small grass stain at the top of one of Harris’s socks, as well as dirt along the side of his right shoe. He concluded that Harris’s scrapes, the grass stains, and the dirt on the shoe showed that Harris was in contact with the grass at least three different times.

McDonnell also said that a substantial amount of dirt on the side of Flowers’s right shoe was consistent with a person leaning down and having the side of their foot in contact with dirt.

McDonnell testified that Peretti's report that the wounds were at an upward trajectory was consistent with Harris's statement that he was on the ground and fired upward. McDonnell also testified that under nationally-accepted guidelines, the absence of gunpowder residue is not a basis for expressing a distance determination.

McDonnell concluded that none of the physical evidence he observed was inconsistent with Harris's or Aftan's statements as to how the events happened. The grass and dirt stains, markings, wrinkles, and abrasions supported the general framework of what Harris and Aftan told him had occurred, he said. In particular, the statement that Harris was on the ground multiple times was consistent with the scrape found on his left shin, the scrapes inside of his right upper leg above the knee, and the separation of stains on his shorts, McDonnell testified.

During Harris’s testimony, as well as during Aftan’s testimony, the defense sought to question them about their knowledge of an incident in 2013 in Flowers’s home. During that incident, Flowers was exhibiting suicidal behavior. He and his wife struggled over a gun and it discharged. The prosecution objected, and the trial judge, Allen Parker Self, granted the objection, refusing to allow the testimony.

On August 28, 2019, Judge Self convicted Harris of manslaughter. The judge said he did not believe Aftan’s testimony, and he had doubts about portions of Harris’s testimony as well. Judge Self concluded that there had been an altercation before the shooting and that Harris was agitated. Judge Self did not believe that Flowers lunged for the gun and found that there was no proof that Harris was in imminent physical harm.

Harris was sentenced to 39 years in prison.

On appeal, his attorney, Jose Baez, raised several issues, including the refusal of Judge Self to allow Harris and Aftan to testify about the incident in Flowers’s home when the gun discharged as he and his wife struggled for control of it.

Baez argued that “knowledge of this fact was a critical component of [Harris’s] perception when he shot Flowers, as Flowers was standing over him and threatening him by reminding [Harris] of how [Flowers] had physically assaulted him in the past and that he would have to shoot Flowers to prevent the same great bodily injury from happening again.”

Baez also argued that the evidence was insufficient to convict Harris of manslaughter. “Circumstantial evidence in this case established that the victim assaulted [Harris] resulting in an arm fracture that required surgery and the implanting of a metal plate and screws. The 911 dispatcher’s testimony that Flowers admitted he had assaulted [Harris] unrefuted,” Baez noted. “The next incident involved Flowers choking [Harris] until he nearly lost consciousness requiring intervention froma bystander. Flowers had a reputation for being ‘hotheaded,’ ‘explosive,’ and ‘to be avoided’ and had been involuntarily committed as a danger to himself and others.”

On January 13, 2021, the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Second Circuit, agreed there was insufficient evidence, set aside Harris’s conviction, and ordered the case dismissed.

“The evidence presented at trial established beyond any reasonable doubt that [Harris] reasonably believed that he was in imminent danger of losing his life or receiving great bodily harm that night in his yard, and that shooting Flowers was necessary to save himself from that danger,” the court declared. “We therefore conclude that he acted in self defense.”

Because the case was decided on that issue, the court chose not to address other issues Baez raised, including the failure of the trial judge to allow the testimony from Harris and Aftan about the incident in Flowers’s home and the struggle with his wife for the gun.

The state filed a petition seeking leave to appeal with the Louisiana Supreme Court. That petition was denied on March 11, 2021 and Harris was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/26/2022
Last Updated: 4/26/2022
State:Louisiana
County:Bossier
Most Serious Crime:Manslaughter
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2016
Convicted:2019
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:39 years
Race/Ethnicity:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:39
Contributing Factors:False or Misleading Forensic Evidence
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No