The fate of a 20-year-old accused murderer is now in the hands of a McLean County jury.
The state rested its case against Christopher Harrison on Friday after more than three days of testimony. Harrison’s defense only presented two witnesses of its own but has argued throughout the weeklong trial that he only killed Reggie Hart Jr. and Joseph Gardner in self-defense. Harrison, then 17, shot and killed the two armed men after they robbed him at his Normal apartment on April 25, 2018. Prosecutors say he didn’t have to kill the men and chose to open fire with an AR-15 assault-style rifle as they fled his apartment.
If convicted on first-degree murder charges, Harrison could face life in prison. Alternatively, the jury can convict Harrison of second-degree murder, a less serious charge.
Hart and Gardner were among the nine people killed by gun violence in Bloomington-Normal in 2018 ‒ a modern record. Their case was unusual due in part to the young age of the alleged shooter (17) and the high-powered weapon used.
The 21 high-velocity rounds that killed Gardner and Hart were discussed at length during Friday morning testimony from Dr. Scott Denton, the forensic pathologist who did their autopsies. Harrison allegedly opened fire at them in his Lancaster Heights apartment building stairwell, as they tried to flee.
Gardner and Hart were shot from the back, Denton testified, at times describing the “pulpification” of their bodies due to the high-velocity rounds. Several of their wounds would’ve been fatal on their own, he said. The placement of two side-by-side headshots on Hart’s body suggests he was already immobilized when they hit, he said. His legs had already been blown out by the gunfire and it would’ve been nearly impossible to run.
“This wasn’t a gunfight,” prosecutor Jeff Horve said during Friday’s closing arguments.
Harrison, who was babysitting his girlfriend’s 6-month-old baby when Hart and Gardner arrived, could have let them flee, locked the door behind them, and called the police, said Horve.
“The robbery was over. This didn’t have to happen,” said Horve, at times holding the AR-15 rifle during his closing arguments. “And he had a baby. Who does that?”
In his closing, defense attorney Kevin Sanborn said Harrison had a right to defend himself with deadly force. He didn’t have time to evaluate all his other options.
“It’s not a checklist, because you don’t have time to go through a checklist,” Sanborn said. “And the state of Illinois ... and your freedom allow you to defend yourself and your property.”
Hart and Gardner “created this deadly scenario,” he said.
“It’s not (Harrison’s) fault. He didn’t force them to do that,” Sanborn said.
Prior to the trial, Harrison pleaded guilty to seven charges related to the incident, including gun and drug counts. He has yet to be sentenced on those charges.
We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.