Frail, hard of hearing and stooped forward on a cane, 94-year-old Edward Harrell admitted in court on Friday that he shot his 88-year-old wife to death in their Santa Ana home in March. He was sentenced to 5 years’ probation in a locked residential home for the elderly.
Flanked in court by his 69-year-old son, Waddie, and his attorney, Paul S. Meyer, Harrell answered “yes” when Meyer asked if he was guilty of second-degree murder. He repeated “yes” when Meyer stated that “on March 31, 1988, you shot a firearm that killed a human being,” pumping the three shots from the .38-caliber revolver into his wife, Connie, while knowing there was a “high probability” that it was dangerous and showing “a wanton disregard for human life.”
Harrell was originally charged with first-degree murder, but under a plea bargain the charge was reduced and the district attorney’s office dropped an added “enhancement” of killing a person over the age of 60. If the enhancement had remained, by law Harrell would have been ineligible for probation.
Superior Court Judge Myron S. Brown cited the “truly unusual circumstances of this tragic event” in imposing the sentence.
“I want the family and this society to understand that he is being placed in a facility where he cannot remove himself except for emergency medical treatment,” Brown said in the Santa Ana courtroom.
Police said Harrell, a retired barber, shot his wife because he thought she was stealing money he kept in a trunk of their home on West 2nd Street in Santa Ana. Meyer said after the shooting that Harrell’s mental condition varied day by day.
Meyer quoted Waddie Harrell as saying that “sometimes dad is here and sometimes he’s not. You can be talking to him and he can think you’re on the moon or he cannot even recognize who you are. Other times he appears pretty good, but you never know.”
But on Friday, after Meyer assured the judge that he, Edward and Waddie Harrell had gone over the plea bargain this week, and after Meyer repeated in court the charges and possible 17-years-to-life prison sentence for second-degree murder, Brown ruled that Harrell had “knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily” pleaded guilty.
Connie Harrell’s daughter, Rosy Lee Lockett of Los Angeles, told Brown that her mother “taught us to love and to pray.” She said that her mother loved Edward Harrell’s five children from a previous marriage as her own after the couple married in Arkansas 45 years ago and that she would not spend a night away from her husband in case he needed her.
She said that when she received a telephone call telling her that her mother had been shot, “I asked who would do such a thing to my mother.” On her drive to Santa Ana that morning, she kept hoping that it had been an accident and that her mother was only injured. But when she arrived she learned that Harrell had shot her mother, she said, and when she saw the crowd outside the house, “I knew she was dead.”
Wiping tears from her eyes, Lockett said her “life has not been the same” since the killing. “I want to know why this happened.
“It hurts me so much to feel the fear my mother felt that day,” she told the judge. She said a killer, “whether he was 24 or 94 . . . should be punished to the extent of the law.”
Outside court, Meyer called it “a very unusual case. I’m relieved that we were able to have the kind of settlement that satisfies every person’s concerns. This has been a tremendous tragedy for the family” but a “remarkable success” for the legal system in working out a solution, he said.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Edward R. Munoz said he could not recall anyone in the county being charged with murder at such an advanced age as Harrell. Munoz said the plea bargain acknowledged “certain realities,” namely Harrell’s frail health and his questionable mental capacity.