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Bobby Lee HARRIS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 20, 1991
Date of birth: January 29, 1966
Victim profile: John Redd (his employer)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Onslow County, North Carolina, USA
Status: Sentenced to death in 1992. Resentenced to life in prison on April 8, 2003

Bobby Lee Harris -  North Carolina

Bobby Lee Harris was sentenced to die for the Onslow County murder of John Redd, owner of a commercial fishering business who was robbed and stabbed in the back before being thrown overboard in August of 1991. 

Testimony at the trial indicated that Harris and another man who worked in Redd's fishing business conspired to rob him so they could go to Georgia to avoid other legal problems in North Carolina.  But instead of tying Redd up, as originally planned, Harris stabbed Redd three times in the back.

Harris indicated Redd was taken to shore, made comfortable, and told that help would be sent.  But the high court said the evidence indicated that Redd had been dumped into the water and made it to shore on his own before bleeding to death. Harris had plenty of opportunity to safely get Redd help, but didn't.  Redd was found 10 hours after he was stabbed and lived long enough to speak to authorities.  


Bobby Lee Harris - Chronology of Events

04/08/03 - Harris sentenced to life in prison

10/22/01 - Judge Wade Barber vacates Harris' death sentence. The murder conviction is allowed to stand. Harris awaits re-sentencing.

1/18/2001 - Stay of execution upheld by NC Supreme Court

1/17/2001 - Execution stayed by Durham Superior Court Judge Wade Barber pending outcome of hearing set for Feb. 20

1/17/2001 - Witnesses named for Harris execution

12/4/2000 - Execution date set for Jan 19, 2001


Execution date set for Bobby Lee Harris

December 4, 2000

RALEIGH -- Correction Secretary Theodis Beck has set Jan. 19 as the execution date for Death Row inmate Bobby Lee Harris. The execution is tentatively scheduled for 2 a.m. at Central Prison.

Harris, 34, was convicted July 29, 1992 in Onslow County Superior Court. He received the death sentence for the Aug. 20, 1991 murder of John Redd.

In addition to receiving the death sentence, Harris received a 40-year sentence for robbery with a dangerous weapon, a 40-year sentence for second degree burglary, a 10-year sentence for larceny of firearms and a 10-year sentence for auto larceny.


Bobby Lee Harris

Execution stayed 1/18/01

Harris' execution was stayed pending a February 20 court hearing.  The following is the original alert on the case.

The state plans to execute Bobby Lee Harris at 2 a.m. on January 19, 2001, despite calls from North Carolina citizens and legislators for a moratorium on executions.  In December, a study commission in the state legislature recommended a 2-year moratorium on executions, as well as a bill to ban the execution of mentally retarded defendants.  Just a few days after Harris's scheduled execution, these recommendations will be presented before the full legislature, and hearings will be held.

The Case of Bobby Lee Harris

Harris and a co-worker, Joe Simpson, were arrested for the murder of their boss, John Redd, in 1991.  As a result of a plea bargain, Simpson's murder charge was dropped and, according to Department of Corrections records, his projected release date is August 2006.  Harris was sentenced to death.

The case was so troubling that two justices of the N.C. Supreme Court wrote a dissent arguing that Harris should be sentenced to life imprisonment.  Justices Exum and Frye wrote that Harris's death sentence was unfair and disproportionate, given Harris's conduct and the compelling mitigating circumstances found by the jury.  The dissent emphasized the slight evidence of planning and noted that North Carolina juries "have consistently returned life sentences under similar circumstances."

Weighing against a death sentence in this case is the fact that the fatal stabbing was not planned in advance but took place on the spur of the moment.  In addition, the evidence showed that, after the stabbing occurred, Harris took measures to try to save the victim's life.  The victim was found alive and lived for almost 24 hours after he was stabbed.  He died on the operating table under questionable circumstances.  Harris voluntarily surrendered himself, gave a full confession, and expressed remorse for the crime.

Harris's background also shows him to be worthy of mercy.  He grew up in a violent and dysfunctional home environment.  Physical and emotional abuse were common during Harris's childhood and led to alcohol and drug abuse at an early age.

While jurors heard some mitigating evidence, the debilitating illness of one of Harris's lawyers prevented the jury from learning more reasons to spare Harris's life.  After the jury had convicted Harris of murder, lead counsel Timothy Merritt was removed from the case because he was suffering from multiple myeloma, a severe form of bone cancer and was too ill to continue.  Second counsel, Charles K. Medlin, Jr., had graduated from law school only three years earlier.  A new attorney, Charles H. Henry, was appointed to replace Merritt, but was given only six weeks to prepare for the penalty phase of the trial.

Counsel did not have enough time to prepare for sentencing and, consequently, the jury did not learn that Harris's I.Q. is just 73, a mere three points above being mentally retarded.  In addition, records showed that Harris adapted well to prison life and did not present a danger in prison; however, those records were never presented to the jury. 

Nor did the jury learn that, as an adolsecent stationed with his family in Germany, Harris overdosed and was hospitalized and placed in detox.  Harris's substance abuse problems continued when he returned to North Carolina.  A few months prior to the crime, Harris's sister-in-law had him involuntarily committed because his drug abuse was so out of control.  Harris was sent to Walter B. Jones Hospital for 45 days and then placed on court-ordered outpatient treatment.  At the time of the offense, neither county medical health officials nor court personnel had followed up despite Harris's continued residence in Onslow County.

Little of this evidence was before the jury.  In fact, some of the records documenting these facts arrived at the defense counsel's office a month after the jury had returned its punishment verdict.  No court has ever held a hearing on the question of whether Harris's trial was unfair because his attorneys failed to show the jury all of the compelling facts about his mental health and background.

In addition, some observers believe that the trial judge showed a pro-death penalty bias during the sentencing phase.  The judge, Joe Freeman Britt, was the former district attorney for Robeson County, where he earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records as "the world's deadliest prosecutor."  Britt had put more than 40 people on death row prior to becoming a Superior Court Judge.



Bobby Lee Harris' crime

The following is an excerpt from an article in the Oct. 13-19, 2000 edition of the Weekly Independent.  Harris' case was one of nine in which the reader was asked, "Which... defendants committed the 'worst' crimes?  Which most 'deserve' death?"

"We, the jury"
Case 6
     A man and his co-worker talked for several weeks about robbing their boss and stealing his truck.  One evening after the three of them had been drinking aboard a boat, the man grabbed his employer's knife and stabbed him three times in the back, taking his wallet and keys.  "Don't kill me," said the wounded man.  "I'm not going to kill you, the man replied.  He then gave the employer a drink, lit a cigarette for him, and helped him ashore, leaving him on a bed of oyster shells.  After entering the employer's house and stealing two guns and some beer, he drove to Georgia.  The employer was rescued 10 hours later and identified his assailant before dying of his wounds.  When the man learned the employer had died, he turned himself in and gave a full confession.  He was 25.

"How do you find?"
Case 6
     Death.  Bobby Lee Harris was sentenced to die for the stabbing near Bear's Inlet in 1991, even though it was not clear he intended to kill.  One Supreme Court justice called the murder "spur of the moment," but a majority refused to overturn the death sentence.  "We are impressed by the callousness exhibited by the defendant," the court stated.


Bobby Lee Harris



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