Convict Murders Days After Judge Releases Him
Tue, 01/08/2008 - 17:07 — Judicial Watch Blog

Although a county probation department labeled a violent convicted felon unsuitable for release, a California judge granted the man one month of freedom to get his affairs in order and days later he committed murder.

The southern California man (Curtis Harris) with a lengthy criminal record was supposed to serve a prison sentence for his long history of violent, abusive and criminal behavior against his estranged wife. He twice kidnapped and terrorized the woman. In late December he pleaded no contest to false imprisonment and being a felon in possession of a gun during a superior court hearing in Los Angeles County.

His felony criminal record dates back to 1993 when he was convicted of discharging a firearm in public. After serving a 16-month prison sentence he was convicted of three felony counts for possession of drugs, resisting an officer and unlawful possession of a weapon. He went to jail for 32 months.

In the latest case, the L.A. County Probation Department filed a report with the court that said the multiple offender was unsuitable for release yet Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher released him on his own recognizance to tie up loose ends before being sentenced to prison later this month.

Instead, Harris abducted his estranged wife again and murdered her before killing himself with a gun. The public will never know what the judge was thinking when she granted this dangerous thug freedom since she said through a court spokesman that judicial ethics forbid her from commenting.

One California political blog writes that Judge Fisher’s decision was inexplicable and that she undoubtedly bears the blood of an innocent woman. It also claims that this tragic case is part of a more widespread problem of out-of-control judges and the out of touch bureaucrats who occupy too much of the bench in California. ... mment-1877

Judges ... What are they thinking?
Posted by: Jachin | 01/07/2008 11:05 PM

Though I wish I could say the occasional out-of-control judge were a rare phenomenon, this story, which has been widely circulated today (January 7, 200 is just begging to be told.

Convicted felon Curtis Harris just couldn't let go. He had a history of stalking, terrorizing, and victimizing people. Despite this, after he was convicted of conduct related to his most recent victimization of his estranged wife Monica Harris, Judge Tia Fisher in Pomona allowed him to "tie up some loose ends" before he began serving his prison sentence. Gee, that's good of you Judge Fisher. Did you hesitate in the slightest when you were told by the probation department in LA County that Harris was "unsuitable for release?"

I don't merely direct this missive at the court, as the evidence indicates the LA prosecutors' office also failed to oppose his release, but ultimately, the power in a courtroom rests with the court, and it is the court which bears responsibility for all which emerges therefrom.

Well, in a sad commentary on the out of touch bureaucrats who occupy too much of the bench in California, the good Judge Fisher turned Harris loose on society, who prompty tracked down his estranged woman, killed her, and then himself. Well done, Judge.

The job of judge is an undoubtedly difficult one. Far be it from me to question the many Solomon's choices our bench officers are confronted with every day. I'll be the first to concede that they have a tough job, and we should be hesitant to condemn them without having stood in their shoes. But when you have evidence that a dangerous convicted felon victimizes a woman with whom he's involved, and you know he's a dangerous and dedicated felon, why would you turn him loose on his hapless victim when you know he's a menace ... when the very probation department charged with advising you about him tells you he's "unsuitable for release?"

It's inexplicable, and Judge Fisher now bears the blood of an innocent woman to prove it.

Job well done, your honor. ... -thinking/

Freed without bail -- with a deadly result
'Unsuitable for release,' Curtis Harris still got out. He apparently shot his wife, then himself.
By Andrew Blankstein, Mitchell Landsberg and Paloma Esquivel, Los Angeles Times Staff Writers
January 8, 2008

There was no lack of warning. Curtis Bernard Harris had a long history of violent, abusive, criminal behavior, including twice seizing his estranged wife and terrorizing her.

Still, a judge in Pomona released Harris from jail late last month, allowing him to tie up any loose ends before being sentenced to prison in the most recent of those cases. The judge freed him even though the Los Angeles County Probation Department said he was "unsuitable for release."

Curtis Bernard Harris ... 150116.jpg
Monica Thomas-Harris

On Saturday, a maid cleaning a Whittier motel room found the bodies of Monica Thomas-Harris, 37, of Upland and Harris, 34, of Chino. Harris apparently shot and killed his wife before turning the gun on himself, West Covina Police Lt. Ron Mitchell said.

The deaths immediately raised questions about Harris' being freed on his own recognizance -- a decision by L.A. County Superior Court Judge Tia Fisher that was not opposed by prosecutors.

On Monday, as prosecutors met to review what had happened, friends and women's rights advocates said the system had failed Monica Thomas-Harris, a mother of two.

"We knew he was a killer. The first time was practice," said Alice Slaughter, whose daughter worked with Thomas-Harris. Slaughter went to the Pomona courthouse looking for answers in her friend's death. She said she was angry that authorities failed to protect Thomas-Harris from a man who had been violent and confrontational for years.

"These deaths were sadly predictable," said Katie Buckland, executive director of the California Women's Law Center. "This is the classic cycle of intimate partner violence. To say the least, it was irresponsible of the judge, and particularly the prosecutors, to allow Curtis Harris to be released without bail for any reason."

Court records indicate that Harris had a felony criminal record that stretched back to at least 1993, when he was convicted in San Bernardino County of discharging a firearm in a public place. The San Bernardino County district attorney's office said he was sentenced to 16 months in prison in that case.

In 1999, Harris was charged with three felony counts in San Diego: possession of marijuana, resisting an officer and unlawful possession of a weapon or ammunition. Los Angeles County probation officials said he received a 32-month state prison term on narcotics charges in that case.

"He was not a nice guy, not a nice guy at all. I was afraid of him," said Tamara Cerven, Thomas-Harris' manager at Nutro Products Inc. in the City of Industry.

Harris and Thomas-Harris were married in June 2001 and separated in October 2003, according to divorce papers filed in December 2005.

About the same time as the divorce filing, Thomas-Harris and members of her extended family were granted a temporary restraining order against Harris after an incident at her home in West Covina.

Asked in that case to describe the "most recent abuse," Thomas-Harris wrote: "Curtis came to my home. I opened the front door but not the security door. He kept asking me to step outside so he could speak to me. I refused many times and asked him to leave. He got angrier and angrier, kicking and banging on the door. Then he banged on the kitchen window and broke the glass. Then he went to my bedroom window and he broke the glass still demanding that I open the door. When I told him my neighbor called 911 he left saying he would see me tomorrow."

The 2005 restraining order had long expired by the time of a run-in between the couple in November. On Nov. 16, Thomas-Harris said, her husband took her from a West Covina park and handcuffed her to furniture at a nearby hotel, according to West Covina police.

She did not immediately report the incident, believing it would not happen again, police said.

Two days later, Harris showed up at his wife's workplace in the City of Industry, took her inside his car, bound her with duct tape and threatened her with a stun gun, Mitchell said.

She escaped and reported both incidents to police, leading to his arrest Nov. 19.

Harris pleaded no contest to a count of firearm possession by a felon. On Dec. 21, Fisher -- sitting in for another judge who was on vacation -- released Harris on his own recognizance, meaning no bail was required. Among the conditions she set was that he was not to contact Thomas-Harris.

The county Probation Department had urged the judge not to free Harris, saying he would "pose a possible threat to the victim and the community," according to Kerri Webb, a department spokeswoman.

"The Probation Department didn't agree with the judge's final decision," Webb said.

Probation officials said they completed their report Dec. 20 and submitted it to the court by 8:30 a.m. Dec. 21, the day Harris made his plea. Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, said it was not immediately clear whether prosecutors saw the recommendation in court that day. Typically, she said, prosecutors receive the probation report at the same time the court does.

A source at the district attorney's office, who asked not to be identified, said staffers at the Pomona office were broken up about the killing and had spent Monday in meetings trying to determine how Harris had been allowed out while awaiting sentencing.

Fisher declined to comment on the case, with a court spokesperson saying it would violate judicial rules for the judge to speak publicly about it.

It was unclear Monday if Fisher reviewed the Probation Department report or whether she was fully aware of Harris' criminal record. It was also unclear how common it is for defendants in such cases to be released before their prison terms begin.

Court records indicate that Thomas-Harris had attempted to reach her husband's defense lawyer, Arthur P. Linders, last week, but was unsuccessful.

Linders said Monday that he had been out of town but received a phone message from prosecutors on Friday that there had been another kidnapping. He had not heard of the deaths before being contacted by The Times.

"This is everybody's worst fear, in any case," Linders said.

Linders said Harris' release pending sentencing was intended to allow him to deal with such issues as his property and the care of his elderly mother, who was living with him. He was due back in Fisher's court Jan. 24, where he was to be sentenced to 16 months in prison.

Court records indicate a bench warrant for Harris was issued Friday after police reported that he had contacted his wife and that she was missing.

Upland Police Officers Anthony Wilson and Lee Shultz testified that Thomas-Harris had last been heard from on Thursday when her 15-year-old daughter from a previous relationship reached her mother by cellphone at 5 p.m.

Thomas-Harris told her daughter she was fine, the detectives said. But the teenager told police she could hear Harris screaming in the background. Attempts to reach her mother again went to voice mail, the officers said.

Thomas-Harris hadn't shown up to work that day, and called to say she wasn't feeling well and had overslept, said Cerven, her boss.

"We should have known right away that something was wrong," she said. "I just think back and I think we should have done something. We should have been more suspicious about her not coming in on time."

Cerven added that a detective had left a message on Thomas-Harris' answering machine at work, saying the prosecutor who was assigned to the case had not shown up on the day that Harris was released.

Cerven described Thomas-Harris as "a hard, hard worker, just an outstanding person" who had "a smile that would light up a room."

In addition to her daughter, Thomas-Harris had a 4-year-old son with Harris. On Monday, the boy was playing computer games at their trim green house in Upland while family friend Lillie Perkins watched over him.

Perkins recalled her friend, saying: "All that I know of her is good. She went to church, she went to work, she did what all of us do -- she tried to do the best that she could for her children."


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