Wednesday, May 28, 1997

Talk of conspiracy, drugs sets mood at Harmon trial


Former Prosecuting Attorney Dan Harmon of Benton had his wife crawl through a dropped ceiling space to steal two pounds of cocaine from a police evidence room, a federal prosecutor told jurors Tuesday.
On another occasion, Harmon, 52, demanded sex or additional money from the wife of a criminal suspect who'd already agreed to pay him $10,000, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Stripling charged during opening arguments in Harmon's trial.
"He tells her she has to have sex with her or come up with more money,'' Stripling said.
But Harmon's attorney said her client's only mistake was becoming involved with the wrong woman -- his ex-wife, Holly DuVall.
DuVall, who pleaded guilty to a federal criminal charge herself Tuesday, will be the only witness who will testify that Harmon used drugs, Harmon's attorney, Lea Ellen Fowler, predicted.
"Mr. Harmon's main problem was he married Miss DuVall, and Miss DuVall was a troubled young woman with a serious drug problem,'' Fowler said.
Harmon is the former prosecuting attorney for the state's 7th Judicial District, which covers Hot Spring, Saline and Grant counties. His trial on 11 felony counts got under way Tuesday afternoon after attorneys spent the morning picking a jury of 12 people and two alternates.
A federal indictment alleges that Harmon used his position to run a corrupt organization in violation of the federal Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations act. It also charged him with 10 other counts involving individual offenses, ranging from possession with the intent to distribute cocaine hydrochloride, conspiracy to extort money, conspiracy to manufacture drugs and witness tampering. He is also charged with retaliating against a witness -- Rodney Bowers, an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette bureau chief whom Harmon attacked outside his office in May 1996.
After the trial recessed for the day, DuVall, 28, pleaded guilty to misprision, or knowing about but not reporting a felony. Prosecutors dropped two other drug charges against her. "Holly DuVall made a deal with the government to save herself from prison,'' Fowler said.
DuVall could face up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal guidelines would probably recommend a shorter sentence.
Another witness in Harmon's trial, John M. Steward, also pleaded guilty Tuesday to possessing marijuana with intent to distribute. He faces up to 20 years in prison and a $1 million fine.
U.S. District Judge Stephen Reasoner allowed Steward, who has had two open-heart surgeries, to remain free on bond despite having tested positive for marijuana use in April.
Speaking to prospective jurors, Stripling acknowledged that "a lot of witnesses who've been involved in criminal activities'' will be called to testify against Harmon, including several testifying in exchange for leniency in their own cases.
In his opening statement, Stripling said Harmon and DuVall -- who were then married -- hatched the plan to steal drugs that had been seized by police after their regular supplier, Shelton Corley, went to prison in 1995.
Harmon's office was in the same building as the evidence locker for the 7th Judicial District Task Force, whose cases Harmon prosecuted, Stripling said.
On a Saturday in October 1995, Stripling said, DuVall and Harmon went to the building and DuVall used a ladder to reach a storage space created by a dropped ceiling.
"Miss Harmon reached down ... and she'll give you the details on taking drugs out,'' Stripling said

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