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Killing suspect had different sides

Christopher Edward Harris' father says his 18-year-old son, accused of a fatal shooting, had been "squared away lately.''

By JANE MEINHARDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 12, 2000


CLEARWATER -- To his father, he was a troubled but promising youth.

To an elderly victim, he was a nervous robber.

To Clearwater police, he was a cold-blooded killer.

Those conflicting pictures of Christopher Edward Harris, 18, emerged Thursday, two days after he was arrested in connection with two shootings less than an hour apart on May 4. Harris, of 2100 Nursery Road, is accused of killing a man and wounding a woman as they drove along Clearwater streets.

Along with the first-degree murder and attempted murder charges in those shootings, Harris faces a robbery/home invasion charge stemming from a separate incident.

Harris' father, Kenneth Harris, has taken his son to counseling and to court. But the elder Harris thought things were working out for his son lately.

He said his son was expelled from Clearwater High School three years ago after skipping nearly a month of school. Harris said his son had taken a lighter to school, which was considered contraband. Neither he nor his wife was notified their son was skipping school or having problems, he said.

The younger Harris then enrolled in night school to get his GED but got kicked out after he was seen smoking outside. He was enrolled in Operation PAR, a drug treatment center, but didn't finish.

"I fought with judges to make him go to school or else, and nothing happened," said Kenneth Harris. "But he's been squared away lately. He wasn't being squirrelly."

Just weeks ago, his son talked about moving to California to get a job and live with an uncle because he wanted to start over where no one knew him.

Harris said he never knew his son had a gun and never saw violent tendencies.

"This has caught me by surprise," he said. "This is a damn overwhelming thing. People need to pay attention to who gets weeded in and out, especially kids. I've got an 18-year-old man sitting in jail, and I see a 14-year-old in him. There's a lot of tragedy here. My son is as good as dead."

Henry and Shirley Hamill, of Clearwater, say Harris was a nervous armed intruder. About midnight on April 10, Hamill opened his mobile home door after hearing a knock. A man with a handgun pushed his way in and hit Hamill, 71, in the face with the gun when he resisted.

Mrs. Hamill, 75, was injured when the man shoved her backward as he screamed at the couple, ordering them to the floor and demanding money.

"I never took my eyes off his face," she said. "I couldn't figure out if he was just super nervous or coming off drugs. He was waving the gun all around so nervously, I thought he might shoot us just for the hell of it."

After taking $144 and a box of rings, the man sped away in a car.

Police say the murder Harris is accused of committing less than a month later was an unprovoked act of violence by a man on the prowl with a .357 revolver.

Harris is accused of shooting Cesar Perez-Hernandez, a 20-year-old cook from Hidalgo, Mexico, from about 2 feet away the night of May 4. Police say Harris extended his arm out the window of his mother's car, aimed the gun at Perez-Hernandez and fired twice, killing him almost instantly.

Less than an hour later, Harris was in the back seat of a friend's car as it headed north on Missouri Avenue. Police say he fired four shots at a car driven by Danielle Laprease, 22, of Largo. Wounded in the neck, she survived.

Kenneth Harris said he is mystified by what police say happened -- unless his son had been drinking. "We have zero tolerance for that because alcohol ruined my family," Harris said. "If my son drinks, he is somebody you don't know."

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