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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor James Harris Convicted of Sex Crimes

pastor james harris

James Harris, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Belle Glade, Florida, was convicted in 2012 of “felony sex crimes involving a 15-year-old boy.”

The Wisconsin Gazette reported:

An evangelical Christian pastor tried to commit suicide in a Florida courtroom moments after a jury found him guilty of felony sex crimes involving a 15-year-old boy.

The Rev. James Harris, 64, formerly the pastor of Belle Glade’s Second Baptist Church, stuffed several pills in his mouth and tried to swallow them before West Palm Beach courtroom deputies pounced on him and ordered him to spit them out. Deputies called West Palm Beach Fire Rescue who removed Harris from the courtroom handcuffed to a gurney, the Sun Sentinel reported.

Harris had sat emotion-less through a three-day trial leading up to the verdict, according to reporters. He faces up to 80 years in prison.

Prosecutors charged Harris with luring his victim by claiming to have professional contacts who could help the boy realize his dream of playing in the NFL. The victim testified that Harris had performed sex acts with him on two occasions.

Prosecutors played a video that Harris made of his victim masturbating according to his directions while watching a porn movie. They played also played a video showing the boy having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend.

Harris was previously arrested in March 2009 for aggravated assault after attacking a woman with a baseball bat at the Belle Glade Elks Club.

Harris is being held on suicide watch at the Palm Beach County jail pending his Oct. 5 sentencing hearing.

Georgia Newsday reported:

When a disgraced ex-pastor swallowed suspicious-looking white pills in court after he was found guilty of sex crimes against juveniles, a shocked courtroom assumed it was a suicide attempt.

But a toxicology report revealed yesterday that those tablets were, in fact, breath mints.

Rev. James Richard Harris, of Belle Glade, Florida, was placed on suicide watch after a jury convicted him of molesting a 15-year-old boy and videotaping several teens having sex.

The 64-year-old was accused of trapping his young victims by abusing his connection to Glades Central High School’s football program.

He was found guilty of performing two sex acts on a 15-year-old boy he had lured with promises of introductions to football scouts and trainers to further the teen’s chances of NFL stardom.

He videotaped the teen masturbating while a pornographic movie played in the background, according to the Sun Sentinel.

The 64-year-old was also found guilty of filming an unwitting 14-year-old girl and her 16-year-old boyfriend, who is described as Harris’ godson, having sex at his house, according to the Palm Beach Post.

The two victims sat in court last week as the disturbing videos were played in front of a jury

But as a judge told Harris he would be imprisoned until his sentencing on October 5, he grabbed a glass of water on the defense table and attempted to down some pills.

Deputies rushed towards him and tackled him to the ground, shouting: ‘Spit it out! Spit it out!’ according to the Post.

‘Oh, my God, it’s cyanide,’ others whispered.

Harris was escorted out of the courtroom, handcuffed to a stretcher, looking barely conscious, and was placed on suicide watch at the Palm Beach County jail.

He had refused to tell paramedics what he had downed but alleged he would be dead by nightfall.

But, in a bizarre twist, a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office toxicology report revealed yesterday that Harris had merely swallowed mints, according to wptv.com.

‘Yes, mints,’ prosecutor Chrichet Mixon told the channel. ‘My initial reaction was the same as the one I had at the time this happened: Nothing this man does surprises me.

‘It just goes to show that he always has an ulterior motive,’ she added. ‘He clearly had an ulterior motive when he befriended those children, and he had a motive for doing what he did in the courtroom.’

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The Sun Sentinel reported:

Once a respected Belle Glade pastor and civic leader, James Harris may spend the rest of his life in a jail cell.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge John S. Kastrenakes on Tuesday said he sentenced Harris, 65, to 30 years in prison for his convictions on six felony sex crimes.

Last week’s sentencing brings closure to the case of a predator whose “insatiable desire for teenage boys” threatened the community for at least a decade, say prosecutors who had urged the maximum sentence of 80 years.

“He was a reverend, a politician, and a supporter of teenage boys having the dream to play professional football,” Assistant State Attorney Chrichet B. Mixon wrote in a memo to the court before Friday’s hearing. “However, Harris’ most suitable title is that of a master manipulator.”

The prosecution involved Harris’ encounters with a 15-year-old boy in 2008 and 2009. He lured the victim, an athlete, with claims of professional contacts such as trainers who could help the boy achieve his dreams of playing in the National Football League.

During the trial in August, the victim testified that Harris performed sex acts on him on two occasions, and took videos. The jury watched two videos: one showed the boy masturbating under Harris’ direction as a porn movie played in the background; the other showed the boy having sex with his girlfriend, 14, who did not initially realize Harris was recording them.

Defense attorney Christopher Haddad argued there was a lack of evidence of Harris’ crimes, aside from the victim’s testimony and deposition, which he called contradictory.

But a jury convicted Harris on all charges: lewd or lascivious battery; unlawful sexual activity with a minor; lewd or lascivious conduct; two counts of promoting sexual performance by a child; and showing obscene material to a minor.

In urging a prison term closer to the 17-year minimum, Haddad said Harris “tried to use his life as a positive force for change and to improve the lives of those around him.”

Harris emerged from a childhood of poverty in Belle Glade, achieved higher education, assumed leadership of a ministry, and became outspoken “against segregation, discrimination and economic inequality,” Haddad wrote in a memo to the judge.

“Although charges involving sexual conduct are very serious, Mr. Harris should not be judged solely upon the misdeeds of this case but by the entirety of his life experience,” Haddad wrote.

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