UPDATED 3:50 p.m. | A jury on Monday convicted Christopher Harrison of Normal on lesser charges of second-degree murder in the killing of two men, opening the door for a reduced sentence.
Both prosecutors and the defense agreed that Harrison fatally shot Reggie Hart Jr. and Joseph Gardner in the hallway outside Harrison’s family’s apartment in Normal on April 25, 2018. During a weeklong trial that concluded Friday, the defense said Harrison was only defending himself from Hart and Gardner, who were armed and there to rob him. Prosecutors said Harrison, then 17, shot the men in their backs with a high-powered AR-15 assault-style rifle as they fled, and that he didn’t have to.
The McLean County jury of nine men and three women could have convicted Harrison of first-degree murder, which might have brought a sentence of life in prison. Instead, they opted for second-degree murder convictions, setting up a hearing in August to determine whether Harrison’s sentencing will take place in juvenile or adult court.
If he’s sentenced as an adult, Harrison could face up to 40 years in prison, said defense attorney Kevin Sanborn. If he’s sentenced as a juvenile, Sanborn said, he could be sentenced to prison only until his 21st birthday—less than a year away.
“Chris was happy to be exonerated of first-degree murder,” said Sanborn. “He was disappointed he was found guilty of second-degree (murder), given that he was defending his life and his property in his particular case. But we’re happy the jury has rendered a just verdict in this case.”
Throughout the trial, Sanborn told jurors Harrison had a right to defend himself and his property from Hart and Gardner. Prosecutors described Harrison as a teenage drug dealer who proudly showed off his “guns, money, and drugs” on social media.
“Chris committed these acts when he was 17, when he was as juvenile. We believe given his social history and everything else, he should remain in a juvenile court,” Sanborn said after the verdict. “We’re hopeful Judge (Casey) Costigan rules that way, but I can’t tell you what we think one way or another. Judge Costigan will tell us when he rules.”
Harrison is still yet to be sentenced on seven drug and gun counts related to the incident. He pleaded guilty to those charges before the trial.
The jury deliberated for just over three hours before reaching a verdict Monday.
In a joint statement later Monday, the McLean County state's attorney's office and Normal Police said they hoped the verdict "help the victims’ families, in some small way, with their healing process."
"Not only did this community lose two young lives but now a third young man will spend his foreseeable future in the penitentiary. The case stands as a stark reminder of the horrors foisted upon our community when individuals obtain weapons illegally then choose to use them illegally," they said.
The statement continued: "The scenario presented in this case undoubtedly forced the jury to make tough decisions between first and second-degree murder. We thank them for their time, consideration and service and respect the verdict they delivered."
The state was represented by prosecutors David Fitt and Jeff Horve.
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