Wow 4 years for kidnap, torture and murder. Imagine if he had some weed on him.
LYNDON, Kan. – A Kansas man has been sentenced to four years and two months in prison in the 2011 beheading of another man with a guitar string.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that James Paul Harris was sentenced Monday in Osage County District Court for involuntary manslaughter in the death of 49-year-old James Gerety. Harris originally was charged with first-degree murder, but pleaded no contest to the reduced charge in December.
A former girlfriend testified last year that Harris told her he shot the victim in the stomach, tortured him for two days and then cut off his head. Prosecutors allege Harris kept Gerety’s head for months for some type of religious practice. Part of the skull was found in March 2012 in rural Osage County on land where Harris’ father lived.
“The justice system is a joke,” Tom Gerety, victim James Gerety’s brother said. “You can murder somebody and get out in 50 months. What’s that tell everybody on the wrong side of the law?”
The prosecutor’s office accepted the plea to the less serious homicide charge of involuntary manslaughter because prosecuting James Gerety’s slaying as a premeditated first-degree murder faced challenges, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones said.
Other than a portion of the victim’s skull, prosecutors didn’t have the victim’s body, the murder weapon hadn’t been recovered, not all the prosecution witnesses were available, and prosecutors faced “credibility issues” with a major witness, Jones said.
“It was going to be a tough case to prosecute,” Jones said.
In a plea agreement signed Dec. 15 by Harris, he acknowledged he thought he had one person felony conviction and one nonperson felony conviction.
That meant Harris would have a C criminal history on the Kansas sentencing grid, and would have received a sentence ranging from 4 years and 5 months to 5 years.
However, a federal conviction for felon in possession of a firearm was vacated and wasn’t counted in Harris’ criminal history.
Harris had been in prison in the Federal Correction Institution in Texarkana, Texas. Harris’ federal sentence was based on a felony conviction in Shawnee County District Court for fleeing and attempting to elude a police officer on Dec. 19, 2011.
In the Shawnee County case, Harris was placed on 12 months of supervised probation, which prohibited him from carrying a firearm, according to Shawnee County District Court records.
The defense in the slaying case contended the Shawnee County felony didn’t fall under the federal prohibition for carrying a firearm. By the time Harris was transported to Osage County to face the slaying case, he had served all of the federal sentence.
Without the federal felony conviction, Harris had a D criminal history, which has a sentencing range of 4 years and 2 months to 4 years and 7 months.
In the written plea agreement, the prosecutor agreed to not oppose the judge sentencing Harris to the low number in the sentencing box, which was 4 years and two months.
Harris declined to say anything during the sentencing.
The judge asked whether Tom Gerety wanted to say anything.
“It wouldn’t do any good,” Tom Gerety said.
On March 14, 2014, a former girlfriend of Harris testified he told her he killed James Gerety, of Topeka, by using a guitar string to sever the victim’s head, then disposed of the body and kept the head in a bag. A part of the victim’s skull was discovered March 24, 2012, at a house in rural Carbondale in Osage County when Shirley Johnson, who lives with Jeff Harris, the defendant’s father, said she was searching for mushrooms.
Instead, she found the top of Gerety’s skull. Jeff Harris called police.