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Alabama Preacher Says Condemned Cousin Harris Sorry He Murdered Teen-Agers

April 14, 1992

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ An Alabama minister says his condemned cousin, Robert Alton Harris, told him that he regrets killing two teen-agers and probably deserves to die for it.

The Rev. Leon Harris, who speaks regularly with Harris by telephone, told The San Diego Union-Tribune in an interview published today that he wants people to understand his cousin.

″There are two facets to Robby,″ Leon Harris said Monday from his home outside Mobile, Ala. ″The one that everybody sees and everybody knows about is a facade. A couple of times I’ve broken through to the side that’s really there.″

Harris is scheduled to die next Tuesday in the gas chamber at San Quentin Prison for the 1978 slayings of two San Diego teen-agers. It would be California’s first execution in 25 years.

Leon Harris, 61, a former deputy sheriff, didn’t know he had a relative on death row until February 1990 when he saw a television news report about his second cousin.

He made contact through Robert Harris’ brother, and has spoken regularly with his condemned cousin since.

He said they talk about family, their religious faith and Robert Harris’ well-being, but they never discuss the day Robert Harris abducted Michael Baker and John Mayeski, drove them to a secluded spot, shot them to death and then used their car in a bank robbery.

″He told me one time that he probably deserved to die because of what he did but he didn’t want to, and that he was very sorry and that if he had to do it over again, if he could, he would stop himself. He wouldn’t do it,″ Leon Harris said.

Defense attorneys have filed a lawsuit demanding that the state allow Leon Harris, as a pastor, to be with Robert Harris during his final hours.

The state does not allow anyone except the prison chaplain to be with a prisoner during the last six hours before execution, and limits visitors for several hours before that.

″Robby requested that I be there for his execution and that I be there for the last hours, if I could,″ Leon Harris said. ″He wants spiritual peace.″

Leon Harris works as a drug-abuse counselor in Mobile and preaches weekly at a Southern Baptist church 130 miles to the north. He has written Gov. Pete Wilson to ask him to halt the execution. Wilson has scheduled a clemency hearing Wednesday.

Robert Harris’ attorneys recently lost their final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They contend their client suffers from recently diagnosed organic brain damage stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome and childhood abuse.

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