Texas man accused of rapes convicted of 1 assault

AP News
Posted: Sep 21, 2011 9:50 PM
Texas man accused of rapes convicted of 1 assault

A former Texas prison employee suspected of a being a serial rapist who targeted older women was convicted Wednesday of sexually assaulting a disabled woman.

Jurors rejected claims by Billy Joe Harris, 54, that he suffers from multiple personality disorder and found him guilty on one sexual assault count related to the January rape of a 59-year-old disabled woman in Edna, located about 100 miles southwest of Houston.

The jury deliberated for less than 10 minutes before returning its verdict, The Victoria Advocate reported. Harris' attorney told The Associated Press that the speed with which the verdict was reached could be a subject of Harris' appeal.

"They deliberated what they felt they had to deliberate. There's no time limit, but it was exceptionally fast," defense attorney Alan Cohen said.

Harris, a former Texas prison employee, had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He had claimed he had been having an affair with the disabled woman.

Authorities allege DNA samples also link Harris to five other assaults or attempted assaults involving women 65 to 91 years old over two years in central and Southeast Texas.

Investigators believe Harris is "The Twilight Rapist," so dubbed because most of the attacks happened just before dawn. The attacks rattled so many women that older volunteers at a Yoakum library in Southeast Texas began locking the doors during business hours and organizers at one community meeting gave away pepper spray as door prizes.

Authorities found evidence of careful planning at the many crime scenes, including cut phone lines outside homes.

Testimony in the punishment phase of Harris' trial in Edna was set to begin on Thursday and could last several days. Harris could receive a sentence ranging from five years to life in prison.

During the trial, Harris' body often trembled and twitched and he sat in the courtroom with paper stuffed in his ears. His attorney said Harris plugged his ears to "keep the voices from speaking to him."

Harris wore handcuffs and chains in the courtroom, as well as a belt that could shock him. District Judge Skipper Koetter ordered the restraints because of Harris' history of disruptive behavior in court since his arrest.

Testifying in his defense, Harris told jurors he had been sexually abused as a child, has three other personalities inside of him and has been visited by aliens several times.

But prosecutors told jurors Harris' assertions of mental illness were part of a con to manipulate the justice system and that there were no records or witnesses that could verify Harris' claims.

"We're happy that justice has been served and he has been found guilty," Jackson County District Attorney Bobby Bell said in a telephone interview after the verdict was announced.

Harris' attorney acknowledged the verdict wasn't a shock, though Cohen thought the speediness of the decision was stunning.

Harris had also been indicted on two charges of burglary of a habitation with intent to commit sexual assault related to the attack on the same woman, but those charges were not part of the trial. Bell said no decisions have been made on whether Harris will be tried later on those charges.

Harris had worked in several prisons around the state, mostly in food service. Background checks before his hiring revealed no prior criminal history, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.