There was hardly a dry eye in the courtroom Wednesday evening when an Albemarle County jury acquitted Joseph Michael Harris of all charges, including first-degree murder.
Prosecuting attorneys argued that Harris, 24, motivated by drugs and money, shot Anthony Lorenzo “Bunny” Johnson to death in February 2005. But, after more than four hours of deliberation, the all-white jury acquitted Harris of first-degree murder, felony murder, robbery and two firearms charges.
“I feel sorry for the family. My condolences go out to them,” said Alvin Harris, Joseph Harris’ father. “I hope they find the person that really did it,” he said.
Joseph Harris was visibly moved by the verdict. After the jury was released, he quietly cried and hugged his defense counsel, Andre Hakes and Bruce R. Wil-liamson Jr.
Commonwealth’s attorneys Jon Zug and Elliott J. Casey built their case around the testimony of several jailhouse informants, but Hakes questioned the motive of their testimony.
“He told me that, ‘I killed him. I didn’t mean to. I tried to scare him,’” Levi Finney, Harris’ former best friend, testified Monday.
During cross-examination, Finney admitted that he was arrested after being asked by Harris to hold drugs. Finney has been behind bars ever since serving a sentence for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine and the possession of a firearm in a drug trafficking crime.
Two experienced jailhouse informants also testified against Harris, but their testimony was mudded when one said he read a newspaper article about the crime before going to the police.
One informant was released from prison immediately after agreeing to testify against Harris.
Though he was found not guilty, Harris returned to prison Wednesday night. He is serving a 14-year, two-month sentence for distribution of five or more grams of crack cocaine and possession of a firearm while trafficking drugs, according to court records. He is scheduled to be released in 2019.