Montgomery man convicted of murder after plunging knife into wife's back
"Raw emotion got the better of Claude Harrison on August 10th. He snapped. He did an awful, awful thing."
And those were the words of his defense attorney.
Harrison, 49, was convicted of first-degree murder Wednesday for killing his wife last summer inside their Silver Spring apartment. He stabbed Lamour A. Harrison, 37, five times while stalking her from room to room, according to prosecutors.
The evidence was so strong that Harrison’s attorney, Brian D. Shefferman, was left to argue that Harrison’s actions didn't amount to premeditated murder, but to a less serious crime. The whole attack lasted perhaps 20 to 30 seconds.
To establish premeditation, though, prosecutors don't have to show the defendant engaged in weeks or even minutes of planning. They can argue that the amount of time someone takes to weigh whether to kill or not need only be a matter of seconds. And in cases like Harrison's, when someone is accused of stabbing or shooting repeatedly, prosecutors will argue that the second, third or fourth attacks are themselves a matter of premeditation because the defendant had a chance to stop but didn't.
The elements of the Harrison case were indeed awful. Armed with a 12-inch knife, Harrison delivered two wounds that were 7 and 8 inches deep – doing so in front of the couple’s daughter, Shanoy, who tried to lift her father off of her mother. Shanoy was about to go start a new life in college at Frostburg State University before that life was shattered.
The couple had had arguments in the past. "This clearly was not Claude Harrison’s normal way of dealing with stress and problems, and marital strife," Shefferman said in his closing argument.
An experienced courtroom attorney, Shefferman is acting as the chief public defender in Montgomery County, and may soon take the top job, which has been vacant since Paul DeWolfe left to be in charge of all public defenders in Maryland.
"What he did was completely wrong ... We know that," Shefferman said. "But this was not a premeditated and deliberate act. It was the result of raw emotion and frustration. Once he got control of that knife, he clearly lost control."
Prosecutor Peter Feeney, in his closing argument, described how Harrison had talked in the past about hurting his wife. And on the day he killed her, his deliberate actions went well beyond a one-time snap, starting with his selection of the knife, Feeney said.
"He's looking for a knife that’s going to get the job done," Feeney said, describing what must have been going through Harrison's head. "There’s a butter knife. I don't want that. There's a regular steak-knife. I don't want that. There's a knife that you would use to chop an onion. That's not big enough. I want this. I want this. This is going to get the job done."
Feeney held the knife up for jurors – 12 inches in total length, with an 8-inch blade.
"He hunts her down, ladies and gentlemen," Feeney said.
He described Claude Harrison's first assault, in a bedroom. He told jurors about what witnesses heard his wife say.
"He forces his way in. 'Why are you following me? What are you going to do?' " Feeney said. "And he plunges the knife into her back."
Harrison then followed his badly wounded wife into the kitchen.
"This is a horribly intimate picture. This is horrific. Dad and mom, Shanoy watching. He takes the knife, and if there's any question at all in your mind about premeditation, after the kitchen incident there ought not to be. He's talking to her. He's talking to his wife. ... And she says to him, 'Please, please.' His response – I mean she's begging, she's begging, begging – his response: 'Please what?'"
Lamour Harrison eventually fell to the floor dying. Her daughter, Shanoy, bent over, sobbing hysterically. Claude Harrison started to repeat that he wasn't a bad person, and was still inside the apartment when police arrived about three minutes later.
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