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Condemned Murderer’s Bid For Third Trial Rejected

August 13, 1986

BAY MINETTE, Ala. (AP) _ A convicted killer depicted by Soviet writers as a victim of racial injustice during more than a decade on Alabama’s death row has lost a bid for a third trial in the slaying of a prison guard.

Circuit Judge Leigh M. Clark on Tuesday denied a defense motion for a new trial for Johnny Harris, 40, who was first sentenced to die in 1975 for the killing of a guard during a 1974 inmate rebellion.

His attorney, Ruth Borquin of Washington, D.C., said she may appeal.

The defense argued that a new trial is necessary because portions of the transcript of his second trial are missing and have stalled his case before the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals.

Harris, who goes by the name Imani, has denied stabbing guard Luell Barrow, who was held hostage and stabbed repeatedly before law officers stormed a cellblock at the state prison farm near Atmore.

Harris’ first conviction, upheld 5-4 by the Alabama Supreme Court, was thrown out by Clark following disclosures that prosecutors withheld information that could have perjured the testimony of a key government witness.

At his second trial in 1983, Harris was again convicted of capital murder and sentenced to die in Alabama’s electric chair. He was convicted under a Civil War-era law that makes the death penalty mandatory if an inmate is convicted of murder while already serving a life sentence.

Harris was serving a life sentence for rape at the time of Barrow’s slaying. A black, Harris contends he was victimized by racial bias in the judicial system in both the rape case in Birmingham and the slaying of the white guard.

During the late 1970s, Harris was described in Soviet journals as a black freedom fighter being persecuted for political reasons. The Soviet commentary came when then-President Carter was deploring Soviet treatment of dissidents.

Amnesty International has been monitoring the Harris case.

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