Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Another Good Reason To Carry a Gun

Harps' death called "random predatory violent killing"

By Natalie Singer
Seattle Times staff reporter

The motive behind the slaying of Shannon Harps wasn't rape, or robbery, or revenge for some perceived slight, King County prosecutors say.

There apparently was nothing particular about the 31-year-old Sierra Club employee that made her a killer's target as she walked to her Capitol Hill apartment on New Year's Eve.

James Anthony Williams, the man accused of Harps' slaying, would later tell detectives she was merely "in the wrong place at the wrong time," according to court documents charging Williams with first-degree murder.

"It is our worst fear — a random predatory violent killing," King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said during a news conference Tuesday announcing the charges.

Williams, 48, an ex-convict with a long history of mental illness, could face 25 to 33 years in prison if convicted. He's being held in King County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail and is scheduled to be arraigned next Tuesday.

Satterberg and court documents supporting the charge provided new details in Harps' slaying and how she was targeted by a man she apparently had never met. Satterberg also announced Tuesday the creation of a panel to investigate why Williams, whose long history of mental illness and criminal activity — including 248 infractions committed in prison while serving an 11-year sentence for randomly shooting a man in 1995 and a host of violations he committed after his 2006 release — was a free man when the slaying occurred.

The group, made up of prosecutors, officials with the state Department of Corrections (DOC), mental-health workers and law-enforcement officers, will produce a report detailing the efforts to supervise Williams in the 20 months between his release from prison and the slaying, Satterberg said.

"This is not an exercise in blaming anyone other than James Williams for this murder," he said. "It is simply the responsible thing to do — to examine our system when the most intensive supervision scheme we have developed could not prevent this terrible crime."

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Williams saw Harps walking alone on a Capitol Hill street around 7 p.m. on Dec. 31 and began following her.

He was armed with a butcher knife, the same type of knife he had previously told police and social workers he liked to keep with him, according to court documents detailing Williams' criminal and mental-health history.

As Harps reached the stairwell outside her condominium building, Williams began stabbing her repeatedly, commanding her to die, Satterberg said.

A witness heard Harps call for help and saw her stagger out of the stairwell, according to the charging documents.

He dialed 911 and then saw a man emerge from the stairwell, look briefly at him and casually walk away, according to the papers.

Police questioned Williams about an hour after the stabbing after finding him at a nearby bus shelter drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, the same beer found near the scene of the slaying. But they let him go after he said he didn't know anything and witnesses said he was not the man they had seen near the scene of the stabbing.

Williams agreed to give police a voluntary cheek swab while they interviewed him after the slaying. This proved to be the break in the case.

On Friday, police announced that Williams' DNA matched that found on the knife recovered near the crime scene. After questioning him a second time, he confessed, they said, telling detectives he had no particular reason to pick Harps.

At that point, Williams had already been in jail for 10 days after he was arrested for missing a required appointment with a mental-health provider, one of many violations of his probation.

While in prison for shooting a man at a bus stop in 1995, Williams constantly exhibited threatening behavior toward corrections officers and racked up 248 serious infractions, according to court documents.

And after getting out, he spent a total of about 9-½ months of 2007 in jail because of various violations of his community-supervision conditions — requirements he had to meet as part of his release from prison in 2006.

Classified as a Dangerous Mentally Ill Offender, he did receive enhanced supervision in the community, according to the King County Prosecutor's Office and DOC officials.

He was brought before the court several times when he violated his conditions, was once sent to Western State Hospital for involuntary commitment, was sanctioned to various jail terms and was ordered to continue outpatient mental-health treatment, according to the Prosecutor's Office.

In March, he told a police officer that he planned to "shoot all his caseworkers" at Sound Mental Health.

In September, police found an 8-inch butcher knife in his sweat-shirt pocket after the landlord of his Capitol Hill apartment told police he had threatened her. He stayed in jail on that charge until just 10 days before Harps was slain.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or