Wednesday, June 4, 1997

Witnesses say Harmon law-abiding, no drug user

LINDA FRIEDLIEB
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Dan Harmon is a caring person who never lies or does drugs, witnesses testified Tuesday as the former prosecuting attorney's defense kicked off an effort to portray Harmon as the victim of vindictive criminals and prosecutors.
"He was always very cordial in speaking with me, very polite,'' testified Deanne Balisterri, who works in the prosecuting attorney's office as a victim witness and child abuse coordinator. "It was always, 'Good morning,' and, 'How are you?' Very appropriate.''
Lea Ellen Fowler, Harmon's attorney, fashioned her defense Monday around positive images of her client as a well-dressed, well-mannered man who did not fit the characteristics of those who abuse methamphetamines. She would not comment on whether Harmon would testify on his own behalf.
"Mr. Harmon has always been a very law-abiding citizen. ... My son was kidnapped, and Mr. Harmon helped me with that,'' said Henry Efird, a former 7th Judicial District Drug Task Force agent who broke into tears during his testimony. "It is really hard to see people of this caliber accusing a man who is so good.''
Harmon faces 11 charges related to his tenure as prosecuting attorney in Benton in the early 1990s. He is accused of possession of, distribution of and an attempt to manufacture drugs; repeated attempts to extort money from accused criminals in his jurisdiction; theft of evidence; witness tampering; and retaliation against Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Rodney Bowers.
Over the past week, witnesses -- many with favorable plea agreements or offers of immunity in exchange for their testimonies -- painted Harmon as a drug addict who routinely did business with the criminals he was supposed to be prosecuting.
Chief U.S. District Judge Stephen M. Reasoner on Tuesday refused to dismiss the 11 counts against Harmon. But the judge reserved the right to dismiss three of the charges at a later point in the trial.
One of those charges, involving allegations Harmon tried to prevent Shelton Corley from cooperating with the federal government, had been the subject of much debate Monday. The defense contested whether a jury could be allowed to make inferences from testimony and whether Assistant U.S. Attorney Pat Harris would be allowed to testify regarding the charge.
On Tuesday, after reading a decision from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Reasoner allowed Harris' testimony and reserved judgment on Fowler's request to dismiss the charge.
In the appeals court case, a charge of witness tampering was allowed to proceed in a case in which a witness' mother was shot in the leg in Chicago. The charge was allowed to go to the jury even though there was no direct evidence the shooting was related to the witness's testimony.
In 1994, after being arrested with more than 100 marijuana plants, Corley agreed to plead guilty to a federal drug charge and to cooperate with prosecutors in several investigations, including Harmon's. Corley subsequently made statements to federal investigators and testified before a grand jury.
But the federal charge against Corley was dropped after Harmon arranged for him to plead guilty to a probation revocation and another state charge in exchange for a 10-year state prison sentence.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stripling, who is prosecuting Harmon, argued that Harmon arranged the state prison sentence with a promise that Corley would be placed in a special program and released after serving minimal time to get federal investigators away from Corley.
Harris' testimony on the witness-tampering charge followed that of two prosecution witnesses related to drug charges against Harmon

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

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