Is Larry Ross Harmon a remorseless killer or a simple defender of his own life and property?
That question has divided residents here for more than a year. A jury will wrestle with it beginning Monday in a trial that may be as much about property rights and self-defense as it is about homicide.Harmon, 58, is accused of first-degree murder in the May 22, 1995, shooting of Douglas L. Greer. He also faces a single count of attempted murder for wounding Raymond Thomas.
The two men approached Harmon's hillside cabin seeking help after they bogged Greer's four-wheel-drive truck in a nearby mud hole. Harmon ordered the duo off his land and then allegedly followed them one-half mile from his gate onto county property, where he opened fire with a .45-caliber handgun.
Greer, 27, was hit in his face and died instantly. Another round struck Thomas in the arm as he ran into the oak brush while Harmon unloaded a volley of slugs, Harmon told investigators.
What is disputed is whether Greer threatened Harmon before the shooting.
Prosecutors contend Thomas and Greer were only seeking help and left the man's property as soon as he told them to do so. Defense attorney Ed Brass believes the exchange wasn't that simple.
"I know the state wants to keep this case simple. But to accept their contention, you'd have to believe that Larry Harmon, for the first crime of his life, wakes up from a slumber and decides he's going to shoot two kids for absolutely no reason."
Brass said he'd introduce significant evidence at the trial supporting Harmon's contention of self-defense. (See related story on B2.)
Meantime, most residents, many of whom descend from a pioneer heritage that celebrates both the right to bear arms and the service of fair justice, have some opinion of the case.
"I think it's horrible what he did! They weren't on his property when he shot them. I'd hate to think looking for help will end that way," said one resident, a mother of three children who asked not to be identified.
Other long-time natives, including a few business owners, defend Harmon.
"I have people come in here and ask, `When are they gonna hang that no-good killer?' There is bias here and I hope it stays out of the trial," said Ross Warner, part-owner of the local Ford Dealership.
Warner first met Harmon five years ago at a car show in southern Utah. Harmon was exhibiting a black 1960 Chevrolet Corvette - a hot rod he won't be showing at this weekend's auto exhibition in Fillmore.
"I think most of the people who don't know Larry and don't know the facts think he is guilty. A bunch of us who know him know it wasn't a case of cold-blooded murder, it was more self-defense. I just don't believe he shot them for any other reason," Warner said.
Greer's mother, Juanita McCall, doesn't care why her son is dead. She knows only that he is gone and Harmon "is the culprit."
McCall has written more than one letter to Millard County prosecutor Dexter Anderson questioning his decision not to file capital murder charges against Harmon. And she's wondered aloud several times whether justice can be served.
"For (Harmon) to have even a tomorrow is more than he deserves," she told the Deseret News. "He shot my son without flinching." She plans to attend every minute of the two-week trial.
Jurors will hear testimony from as many as 25 witnesses during the proceeding. Perhaps most controversial will be the word of blood spatter expert Rod Englert, whom prosecutors hope will refute Harmon's claim of self-defense.
Englert was a key witness in at least two high-profile murder trials that ended in acquittals after juries rejected his theories.
His last defeat came in the case of Sam Kastanis, a Salt Lake County public works employee who was acquitted of the slashing murders of his wife and three children.
After studying spatters and other blood evidence, Englert concluded he was "110 percent" certain Kastanis committed the murders. Some jurors dismissed that conclusion as unscientific arrogance.
Jury selection is expected to last through Monday. Opening statements in the case could be delivered as early as Tuesday. Fourth District Judge Anthony Schofield will preside.