Defense rests, Vegas Strip trial defendant doesn't testify
Oct. 23, 2015
LAS VEGAS (AP) — A self-described pimp decided Thursday not to testify, and his defense rested in his murder trial in the deaths of three people in a shooting and fiery crash on the Las Vegas Strip.
Just two witnesses — a casino valet employee and a psychiatrist — testified in Ammar Asim Faruq Harris' defense on charges that could get him the death penalty if he's convicted.
Valet supervisor Keith Mitchell said he saw a man with a gun during a loud argument among people waiting for their vehicles after a private event at a hip-hop nightclub at the posh Aria resort. Jurors have heard that Harris had exchanged angry words with someone in the club.
Dr. Norton Roitman testified that along with acute automatic "fight-or-flight" responses to a challenge or threat, someone with alcohol and the drug Ecstasy in their system could experience distorted reactions to real events. Roitman said he didn't examine Harris himself.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations after closing arguments, which are scheduled Monday.
Harris, 29, is accused of shooting from a black Range Rover into a moving Maserati sports car, mortally wounding aspiring rapper Kenneth Wayne Cherry Jr. behind the wheel and causing a high-speed crash and a fireball that killed two people in taxi in February 2013.
Witnesses said Harris argued with a man in the club. But one woman who was in the Range Rover with Harris at the wheel testified she recognized Cherry and told Harris the man driving the Maserati wasn't the man Harris had argued with.
Harris said someone in the Maserati shot at him. But police didn't find bullet damage to the Range Rover or a weapon in the wrecked sports car, and Detective Dan Long testified that no gunshot residue was found in the Maserati.
Las Vegas taxi driver Michael Boldon and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund of Maple Valley, Washington, perished in the inferno that tourists compared with a scene from a Hollywood movie. Harris fled to Los Angeles before his arrest a week later.
Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday playing a recording of Harris on a jailhouse telephone call with a friend apparently shaping accounts of the carnage on the Strip and Harris asking for help to sell his story and hire a high-powered lawyer. The friend was idenfified only as "K."
If he's convicted, Harris will face a death penalty hearing next week before the same jury.
Clark County District Court Judge Kathleen Delaney gave the jury Friday off.
Harris, who grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Miami, Atlanta and Las Vegas, had indicated he wanted to tell his story himself. His decision not to testify hinged on defense strategy with his lawyers, Thomas Ericsson and Robert Langford.
If Harris had taken the stand, he would have faced tough cross-examination from prosecutors David Stanton and Pamela Weckerly and certain questions about prior felony convictions.
But jurors already learned through testimony this week that Harris was convicted in South Carolina in 2004 of felony possession with intent to sell a stolen pistol, and that he was convicted earlier this year of bribing a Nevada prison guard to smuggle cellphones, takeout chicken and vodka to him behind bars.
The jury hasn't been told why Harris is in Nevada state prison. He's serving 16 years to life for raping and robbing an 18-year-old woman at a Las Vegas condominium in June 2010. But his conviction and sentence are under appeal to the Nevada Supreme Court.