free lisa dawn harris
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Lisa Dawn Harris is serving life without parole for first degree murder of a man who raped one of her friends. When a jury convicted Lisa Harris of first-degree murder, life without parole was the only sentence available for a juvenile — other than death. For the last 28 years, Lisa Harris has remained behind bars. That is, except for a five-year stint in the mid-1990s when she broke out of prison and lived an inconspicuous life in Wyoming (more on that later). Now, she is hoping to get out the legal way. Harris, now 45, is one of more than 80 people in Missouri who could be affected by an ongoing legal drama playing out in the Show Me State. Missouri is one of a handful of states that has sentencing rules for juvenile murderers that don't comply with federal law. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in Miller v. Alabama, that while states can sentence minors to life in prison for premeditated murder, they must offer courts a less severe sentencing option. In Missouri, life in prison is still the only sentence available for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. Meanwhile, the nation's high court is considering whether it should apply the ruling retroactively, which could mean letting convicted murderers like Lisa Harris go free. Harris was convicted of first-degree murder in 1987. Linda Harris, the mother of Lisa Harris, said she believes her daughter deserves to be released. “She is not a bad person,” Linda Harris said. “She screwed up, big time, along with plenty of others. I think she could lead a very productive life.” Sen. Bob Dixon, R-Springfield, said he would like Missouri to get in line with federal law without letting convicted murderers go free. Dixon has proposed a bill that would offer courts the option of a second sentence for juvenile murderers. He hopes the bill will be passed during this year’s legislative session, which began Wednesday and will run through May. Dixon's law would also allow juvenile murderers who were automatically given life in prison to have their sentences reviewed, which Dixon hopes would stave off any consequences if the Supreme Court were to apply the Miller v. Alabama decision retroactively.
"The problem is with the way that case goes, it's very possible that either those people could have their sentence basically thrown out or (be) given a right to a new trial," Dixon said. Dixon had proposed the law during last year's legislative session as well. The bill was derailed in the last days of the session when the legislature bogged down, in large part because of the fight over right-to-work, Dixon said. On the night of Feb. 10, 1987, Lisa Harris was among a handful of teenagers who went to the home of 34-year-old John Hill. One member of the group, another 17-year-old girl, who had been raped by Hill. The group drove out to Hill's home to confront him and to "kick some ass," in Lisa Harris' words. The teenagers had consumed hallucinogenic mushrooms before heading to Hill's home.
The confrontation between Hill and the teens quickly grew violent. The teenagers began to beat Hill. Some of them had weapons, including a knife and a hammer. Lisa Harris confessed (falsely) to using the hammer to repeatedly strike Hill in the head. An autopsy found Hill died from a series of blows that punched holes in his skull. The crime Lisa Harris and her friends committed reportedly shocked the small community of Neosho. A judge agreed to move her trial from Newton County to Greene County to ensure a fair trial. Just eight months later, Lisa Harris stood trial. She admitted to striking Hill in the head with a hammer but argued it was in self-defense. Others also testified that Hill lunged at Lisa Harris, which set off the violence. The jury deliberated for two hours before convicting Lisa Harris of first-degree murder. Lisa Harris' brother, Billy, was convicted of second-degree murder in connection with Hill's killing. He served 15 years in prison and was released in 2002.
Lisa Harris' story did not end with her conviction. In 1991, Harris and several other women escaped through a hole in the fence at the Renz Correctional Institute for Women. Lisa Harris would later tell authorities she just walked out of the prison. The escape made headlines and garnered attention from producers of the "America's Most Wanted" TV show, which aired a segment on Lisa Harris describing Hill's murder and her subsequent escape. Lisa Harris lived freely for almost five years. In 1996, the U.S. Marshals Service found her living in Wyoming and local authorities arrested her without incident. The airing of the "America's Most Wanted" episode led to a tip that helped investigators locate Lisa Harris. Linda Harris said she didn’t have any contact with her daughter during the five years that she was on the lam. Linda Harris said it was devastating when her daughter was caught but, at the same time, a relief to know that she was safe and alive. During her time away from prison, Lisa Harris gave birth to a daughter, who was 2 months old at the time of her capture. Lisa Harris’ daughter, Fallyn, is now 20. She lives in Wyoming with her father’s parents, according to Linda Harris. Lisa Harris talks with Fallyn on the phone and gets to see her in person about once a year. Linda Harris said the fact that Lisa Harris lived in Wyoming for five years without any known criminal involvement is proof that she is ready to re-enter society. “She made a stupid mistake,” Linda Harris said. “She got in with the wrong crowd, started using drugs and just lost her mind for a moment… She is not that kind of person.” Linda Harris said her daughter is following the Missouri legislature closely and hopes that her sentence will be reconsidered. In the meantime, the uncertainty has been tough. “It’s been like hell,” Linda Harris said. “She was barely 17 years old when this happened and she has been gone for 28 years. She doesn’t have a life.” Linda Harris said her daughter earned her GED certificate while in prison, but she has dreams of pursuing a college education if she is released. Linda Harris never left Neosho even though two of her children were convicted of murder in the southwest Missouri town of about 12,000 people. She said Neosho is home, and the community has supported her over the years. Linda Harris intends to stay in town. And maybe, someday, help her daughter apply to colleges.
This is why she should be released immediately and not die in prison.
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