Tuesday, June 10, 1997

'Harmon didn't have lunch money'

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Dan Harmon contends he didn't do the things he's charged with:
He didn't steal cocaine from the evidence locker in the 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force. He didn't extort money from people stopped on the highway with illegal drugs. He never even met a drug dealer who federal prosecutors say manufactured methamphetamine for the then-prosecuting attorney.
"Where's the money?" Lea Ellen Fowler, Harmon's attorney, asked during closing arguments Monday in Harmon's trial on 11 federal felony charges. "He produced person after person after person after person from all walks of life in Saline County, who had nothing to gain, who told you most days Mr. Harmon didn't have lunch money ... He didn't have anything but his job."
Monday night, the 12 jurors who heard the case left the federal courthouse in Little Rock after just more than an hour of deliberations without making a decision. They return today to continue their task of sifting through nine days of arguments and evidence to attempt to reach verdicts.
Harmon is charged with using his 7th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney's office as an organized criminal enterprise in violation of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. That charge includes 10 acts listed as part of the alleged racket, which Harmon is supposed to have shared with drug task force head Roger Walls and Bill Murphy, a defense attorney.
Each of those 10 acts is also charged as a separate crime. Harmon is indicted on two counts of possession with the intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, four counts of conspiracy to extort money, three of conspiracy to manufacture drugs, one of witness tampering and one of retaliation against a witness.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stripling argued Monday that Harmon led two lives, a public one as a prosecutor who served on civic boards and did good deeds and a private one as a methamphetamine addict willing to associate with and extort money and drugs from criminals to feed his habit.
"There's really no explanation for this ... What did Mr. Harmon tell you? 'Didn't happen.' He doesn't quibble over details. 'Didn't happen,' " Stripling said. "He was up to his elbows in all these activities and all the activities of the prosecuting attorney."
Stripling also said Harmon's lack of cash flow did not prove innocence.
"You can make a lot of money and not keep it," Stripling said. "You can gamble it away. You can snort it away."
The jury would have had the case earlier Monday, but a suspicious suitcase found behind a piece of furniture in an unused room at the Legacy Hotel forced an evacuation of the federal courthouse.
A hotel cleaning crew found the tweed carry-on bag about 9 a.m. wedged between a writing desk and the wall of room 504, which faces the courthouse across Capitol Avenue. After evacuating the courthouse, bomb disposal unit members entered the room and used a water cannon to "neutralize" the suitcase.
Inside, firefighters found dirty clothes and several "handwritten notes," but no explosives.
Afterward, federal judges, court employees and attorneys returned to get some work done. In the case against Harmon, that meant closing arguments.
"What they brought you were a bunch of career criminals, convicted felons, people who Mr. Harmon prosecuted personally and his ex-wife," Fowler told the jury, describing prosecution witnesses. "Every individual who brought forth evidence against Mr. Harmon had a stake in the outcome of his case."
But Stripling, in his final remarks, pointed out that he did not get to pick the witnesses. He listed each one, saying that to find Harmon innocent, the jury would have to believe every witness set out to perjure himself.
Stripling said Harmon set up the government's witness list by choosing those he would buy drugs from and those he would target for extortion.
Stripling used his closing argument to run through each of the 11 charges, pointing out specifics in the evidence. He referred to one alleged extortion attempt, when Harmon supposedly took money from LaJean O'Brien and Freddie McCaslin in exchange for dropping drug charges.
"If they paid the money, the charges would go away," Stripling said. "They paid the money. The charges just went away.... There's no confusion here. The defendant just wants to create one about where that money was going."
Stripling said even if some or all of the money was placed into an account for the 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force, Harmon's actions could still constitute extortion.
"It's still extortion because they forced the money to come into the drug task force so they would have money to operate the schemes they were operating," Stripling said.

Information for this report was provided by staff writer Jim Brooks.

Copyright 1997, Little Rock Newspapers, Inc. All rights reserved.