Frances Harris, a 53-year-old mentally challenged mother of three, loved to listen to Gospel music and to stroll her South Miami-Dade neighborhood, greeting friends.
Her walks around the neighborhood unfortunately made her an easy target.
On the night of July 7, police say a group of teenagers attacked Harris, beating and kicking her repeatedly before two of them raped her on the side of an abandoned house. She died of blunt force trauma that caused bleeding in her brain.
One of the suspects, a 16-year-old Palmetto High student named Jeremiah Williams, eventually confessed to his role in the fatal beating, a detective testified Tuesday during the first major court hearing in the case.
“He mentioned he kicked the victim’s head like a soccer ball,” Miami-Dade Detective Michael Scott said, drawing pained gasps from Harris’ family seated in the courtroom gallery.
Tuesday’s hearing unfolded as Williams’ defense attorney asked the court to release the teen from jail before trial. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler acknowledged that Williams had no previous criminal record, but refused to free him.
“Frances Harris died in a way that was senseless,” Pooler said.
Williams has been charged with second-degree murder as an adult, so far the only suspect who has been arrested. He has pleaded not guilty. Miami-Dade detectives are awaiting lab analysis of evidence from the crime scene in hopes of making solid cases against other teens believed involved in Harris’ murder.
Harris, the sister of a Miami-Dade police lieutenant, had long suffered from health issues, including seizures.
“She had the IQ of a 6-year-old but she knew right from wrong. She knew danger. And she knew God,” said her sister, Brenda Harris, 58, with whom Harris lived.
The woman lived just a few blocks away from Williams, whose mother often left bread out for her to take, the detective told the judge on Tuesday.
Her partially nude body was discovered on the side of an empty home at 10215 SW 171st St. The break in the case came almost immediately. As Miami-Dade detectives were finishing examining the crime scene, the teen’s mother urged him to talk to police. He initially told the homicide bureau only that he had seen a group of gang members follow Harris to the back of the home. But a day later, a neighbor called police to say that Williams was actually involved.
The teen’s mother agreed to take him to the homicide bureau for more questioning.
After changing his story several times, police say Williams admitted he was hanging out with his buddies and they went for a walk, spotting Harris. The teens followed her, then began beating her behind the house for a full five minutes before she managed to escape.
But Harris fell back down on the side of the house, right in front of Williams, who told police he kicked her in the head as she lay face down, Scott said. Two of the teens then raped Harris for another five minutes, he said.
“This woman was beaten to death for no other reason than these individuals’ boredom,” said Miami-Dade prosecutor Christine Hernandez Baldwin.
Williams insisted he did not rape the woman. Defense attorney Robert Barrar insisted that Williams’ decision to come forward made a strong case to release him from jail. “By going to the police, he did the right thing,” Barrar said. “He did the stupid thing. But he did the right thing.”
Judge Pooler disagreed.