Harris was stabbed four times during the incident, which occurred on Jan. 10, 2003, in the parking lot of the Shell gas station in Jasper. Harris died three days before the birth of his child, and the murder received heavy media coverage throughout the state. Richard Harbin was 24 at the time of the incident, while B.J. Harbin was 18 years old and Michael Harbin was 16.
According to Richard Harbin’s defense attorney, Glenda Hudson, the altercation stemmed from an argument concerning Harris’ wife, Sarah, who was the ex-girlfriend of Richard Harbin.
B.J. Harbin, who carried the knife to the altercation, was convicted of manslaughter in January 2006 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Michael Harbin’s case is still pending, according to Walker County District Attorney Bill Adair.
Hudson said the jury’s decision is a great relief to her client. She said his testimony proved that though he was involved in a physical altercation with Harris, he did not participate in the stabbing.
“We feel the jury has done its duty, and they did it with great caution and brought justice to this case,” she said. Hudson said the district attorney’s office did a good job representing the state, but the “facts were the facts.”
Assistant District Attorney Chris Sherer, who prosecuted the case with assistant DA Hollye Farmer, said they feel the evidence showed that Richard Harbin did aid and abet his brother, and the prosecutors were hoping the jury would find him guilty.
Sarah Harris said she was shocked by the decision. However, she and Joseph’s mother, Rhonda Harris, said it is in God’s hands now, and they must accept it, move on and begin remembering Joseph from when he was alive.
“We’re tired, and we’re sure the Harbin family is also,” Sarah Harris said.
Sherer said he thanks the victim’s family members for their patience and composure throughout the whole ordeal.
“They have been just very classy people,” he said. “They have been over and above what we could have asked for.”
Adair said a charge of aiding and abetting is particularly difficult for a prosecutor to prove, and he commends the hard work of Sherer and Farmer in this case.
Both Sarah and Rhonda Harris said they are thankful to the entire staff of the district attorney’s office, especially victims service officer Susie Lyford.
Rhonda Harris added that the entire family is thankful for the prayers they received throughout the trial.
Adair said the prosecution of Joseph Harris’s case is part of an effort by his office to clear a backlog of homicide cases.
So far, they have prosecuted a dozen of the 23 homicide cases that were pending the day Adair took office.