PEORIA, Ill. (AP) — A 34-year-old man accused of killing five members of a central Illinois family with a tire iron took the witness stand Friday, wiping away tears as he painted a horrifying picture of the murder scene.
Christopher Harris also insisted it wasn't him, but one of the children, who slaughtered the family at their home on a night four years ago in the tiny farming community of Beason.
Harris is charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Rick Gee, 46, and Ruth Gee, 39, and three of their children; another child, 3-year-old Tabitha, survived. They were family to Harris' ex-wife, Nicole Gee; Harris said he was like an uncle to the kids.
Prosecutors have flatly dismissed Harris's claim that 14-year-old Dillen Constant killed the family, one state attorney telling jurors during openings that the boy frantically escaped the house through a window and pleaded for his life, saying, "Chris stop! Chris stop!"
But by Harris' account after he took the stand Friday, he went to the home at 1 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2009, to buy marijuana. Stepping inside, he was perplexed there was no response. As he walked farther in, the horror became evident, he said.
"There was blood everywhere," Harris told jurors, the (Bloomington) Pantagraph reported.
In a back hallway, Rick Gee was on the floor — his wife, Ruth, against a dresser, he said. Then he saw 11-year-old Austin Gee on a bathroom floor.
"He was breathing really heavy, moving his arms around and looking at me," he said.
He heard another noise, he said. That's when Harris allegedly saw Dillen Constant.
"I turned around and looked and he was standing there," Harris testified, the Journal Star in Peoria reported. "He had a knife in his hand and was covered in blood."
He told the boy, "Dillen, it's Chris," and asked what had happened, Harris testified.
"And that's when he swiped at me with the knife," said Harris, in tears on the stand.
Harris testified it was then that he reached for the tire iron to defend himself. After a fight moving from different rooms, Harris said he eventually killed the boy.
By then, he said, Austin wasn't breathing. Justina Constant, 16, was on her bed — bloodied. On the stand, Harris lowered his head and cried.
Harris began his testimony just after the state rested. The trial was moved to Peoria, 50 miles northwest of Beason, because of the pre-trial publicity in Logan County.
During state testimony Thursday, jurors appeared visibly upset as prosecutors displayed grisly autopsy photos. One juror cried.
Harris' brother, Jason Harris, testified last week the two brothers headed to the house following a night of drinking and drug use.
As he remained outside standing behind a tree, his brother Christopher entered, Jason Harris testified. He said he heard a woman's scream — like from "a horror film" and thuds like a bowling hit the floor.
Christopher Harris eventually emerged from the house, saying, "'I killed them all,'" Jason Harris testified.
Jason Harris initially was charged with murder but agreed to testify in exchange for pleading guilty to lesser charges and getting a 20-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors initially said the brothers went to the house to sexually assault Justina Constant and rob the family. But a sexual assault charge was dropped as jury selection began at the end of April.
During cross-examination Friday, a prosecutor Jonathan Wright pressed Christopher Harris about why he didn't call police if he wasn't to blame for the massacre.
"I made some huge mistakes," Harris said. He added, "I didn't want to have to explain."
After several hours on the stand, defense attorney Dan Fultz had a final question for his client: "Did you do it?"
"No," Harris responded.