Self-Defense Claim Emerges In AR-15 Shooting At Normal Apartment | WGLT

Self-Defense Claim Emerges In AR-15 Shooting At Normal Apartment

Jun 9, 2020

UPDATED 6 p.m. | Witnesses said Tuesday that Christopher Harrison didn't just have an AR-15 in his family's apartment the night two men were killed. He also was babysitting his girlfriend's 6-month-old.

The girl's presence on the evening of April 25, 2018, created an even more chaotic scene than was previously known. Harrison is accused of fatally shooting Joseph Gardner and Reggie Hart Jr. as they fled his Normal apartment that night. The prosecution says Gardner and Hart were there to rob Harrison of drugs, guns, and money stashed in the apartment.

After the robbery, Harrison chased them out into the hallway and shot at them 27 times with an AR-15 assault-style rifle, prosecutors said.

"This is the worst night of my life. I can't even watch a baby right," Harrison reportedly told a police officer after the shooting, according to testimony.

Christopher Harrison, now 20, during jury selection on Monday, June 8, 2020.
Credit Ryan Denham / WGLT

Harrison's murder trial began Tuesday, following Monday's jury selection. Prosecutors opened their case by alleging Harrison was a teenage drug dealer who needlessly chased and shot Hart and Gardner. Harrison’s attorney, Kevin Sanborn, said he was only defending himself from the armed robbers.

Both sides agree Harrison, then 17, was the gunman. But Sanborn told jurors in his opening statement that it was Gardner and Hart who “made the choice” and brought upon their own deaths, by planning to rob Harrison, a drug acquaintance.

“He killed them, yes. We’re arguing here whether he was legally entitled to,” said Sanborn.

Prosecutor David Fitt said Harrison wasn’t shy about his “drugs, money, and guns,” regularly posting videos of himself with them on Snapchat. He conceded to jurors that Hart and Gardner were both armed (with a sawed-off shotgun and stolen handgun) and went to Harrison’s Lancaster Heights apartment on April 25, 2018, to rob him. They entered the apartment Harrison shared with his mother and siblings, including an 11-year-old sister. Harrison was also babysitting the 6-month-old that night.

Harrison chased Hart and Gardner out of the apartment, Fitt said. But instead of locking the door and calling police, Fitt said Harrison chased them into the hallway with the AR-15. He fired 27 high-velocity rifle rounds at the fleeing men, Fitt said, striking them in the back and back of the head. Gardner was shot 13 times, and Hart eight times. They died at the scene.

Fitt said Harrison had the opportunity to end the conflict without opening fire.

“If he had shot them in the back bedroom (Harrison’s bedroom), it’s a different story. But that’s not what actually happened,” Fitt told the jury of nine men and three women. “He could’ve just let them go.”

Prosecutors said Harrison and Gardner were partners in a prior drug deal, but that the relationship turned sour. During his opening statement, Sanborn read text messages between friends Gardner and Hart that he said showed they planned to rob Harrison.

The first seven witnesses Tuesday included Hart and Gardner's mothers. Also testifying was Harrison's brother, Noah, who let Hard and Gardner into the apartment that night. He said he didn't recognize the men but assumed they were his brother's friends.

“They came running out (of his brother's bedrooom), and Chris was chasing them, with a very large gun," Noah testified.

Jurors also got to see the AR-15, sawed-off shotgun, and two handguns that were present the night of the incident.

Prior to the trial, Harrison, now 20, pleaded guilty to seven charges related to the incident, including gun and drug counts. He has yet to be sentenced on those charges.

If convicted on the murder charges, Harrison could face life in prison.

The state also is represented by prosecutor Jeff Horve. The trial is expected to last through Friday.

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