21 Aug 2008

Documents claim slayings of two girls were satanic

Sioux City Journal - August 17, 2008

SIOUX CITY -- Recent court filings shed new and disturbing light on what prosecutors and police call the ritual slaying of two girls in Sioux City. It's information defense lawyers don't want a jury to hear.

Prosecutors say 26-year-old Lawrence Douglas Harris Sr., who faces two counts of first-degree murder for allegedly killing his 8- and 10-year-old stepdaughters in January, was practicing satanism and carefully planned the killings as a part of a spell or ritual from "The Satanic Bible." Harris owned a spell notebook, prosecutors say, that contained references to and drawings from "The Satanic Bible," widely considered the founding document of the Church of Satan, "Necronomicom," the so-called dangerous book of the dead invented by author H.P. Lovecraft and "Pagan Ways," an introduction to Paganism.

Passages from "The Satanic Bible," prosecutors say, are consistent with the injuries and cause of death of the two children.

Harris' defense team, however, wants to stop prosecutors from referring to Satanism, the Church of Satan or the terms satanic, wiccan and paganism. Assistant public defenders Michael Williams and Bryan Goodman, in an Aug. 1 filing in district court, argue those terms aren't relevant and could prejudice jurors.

"The prejudice against the religions and organizations is culled instantly by the names themselves," defense attorneys wrote.

Assistant Woodbury County Attorney Mark Campbell filed a response a few days later saying the presentation of that evidence is critical to the state's case against Harris and could prove he wasn't insane at the time of the killings.

Woodbury County District Court Judge James D. Scott issued an order last week setting a hearing on all motions pending on the case for 1 p.m. Wednesday in Sioux City.

Prosecution: Killings were planned

The Woodbury County Attorney's Office says in a response filed Aug. 7 that the evidence is necessary, alleging Harris was performing a spell or ritual from "The Satanic Bible" when the girls died.

They evidence of Harris's belief in these texts is proof he wasn't mentally ill or committing a psychotic act, but was conducting a spell or ritual.

"Passages from 'The Satanic Bible' are relevant evidence regarding the fact that it was the defendant who killed the children, since the killings appear to have been part of a ritual the defendant had planned," prosecutors wrote.

Firefighters found the girls, 10-year-old Kendra Suing and 8-year-old Alysha Suing, stabbed and strangled in their bedrooms on Jan. 6. Authorities had been dispatched to the house at 1420 Nebraska St. for a fire in the basement.

Harris pleaded not guilty and has been incarcerated since his arrest. He currently is being held at the Woodbury County Jail in lieu of a $1 million bond.

Shortly after the girls' deaths, police said Harris told them they had died during a spell that "had gone bad."

According to the motion filed by prosecutors, one of the last spells in Harris' spellbook was a from a chapter in "The Satanic Bible," the Invocation Employed Toward the Conjuration of Destruction. In that two-page chapter, the invocation mentions slashing the victim and "rend that gaggling tongue and close his (her) throat, Oh Kali!"

Prosecutors say the girls' injuries were consistent with writings contained in that chapter. They also say Harris told police he was possessed by Kali at the time of the killings.

Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change, is often associated in popular culture with death and destruction. Images of the goddess often feature a garland of human heads.

Although "The Satanic Bible" has a chapter called One the Choice of Human Sacrifice, the book specifically prohibits killing children. Human sacrifices are to be made in the indirect sense, it says, through a curse or hex that "leads to the physical, mental or emotional destruction of the 'sacrifice' in ways and means not attributable to the magician."

Those worthy of being sacrificed, the book says, are those who have unjustly wronged, hurt or made trouble for the satanist: "In short, a person asking to be cursed by their very actions."

Family, friends and neighbors interviewed by the Journal in the days following the killings said Harris seemed to be a good father to the girls.

According to the motion by prosecutors, items found in the family's home suggest otherwise.

They allege authorities searching the house found candles, a "ritual knife" that allegedly had DNA from the blood of one of the children, the sigil of Baphomet, bells and an amulet with an inverted pentagram. All of the items, including the number and color of the candles, matched the directions for conducting satanic rituals in a chapter of "The Satanic Bible."

Defense: Excessive influence a concern

In addition to not being relevant to proving the prosecutors' case against Harris, his defense attorneys wrote that not only would using words like Satanism and the other religious names unfairly influence the jury, but it could affect its view of relevant evidence.

"As such, there is great danger that the jury would be influenced to an excessive level simply by some references by the State to satanic religions or organizations," defense attorneys wrote.

In addition to those concerns, defense attorneys argue that the references would lead to a "waste of time" and confusion. If the prosecution is allowed to invoke those images, the defense argues it would be entitled to present evidence to clarify that information. The type of evidence needed to clarify those terms and images, the defense says, would "distract from relevant issues in this trial."

Defense attorneys also wrote that they want to ban use of satanic words or references, because they believe prosecutors also plan to use that evidence to suggest Harris was affiliated with the Church of Satan and is an evil person for that reason.

"Lastly, the defendant provided some statements to the police which include references to paganism, wiccanism and Satanism," defense attorneys wrote. "It is clear that the issue will be a frontspiece for the State to suggest that the defendant is evil, unless the court sustains this motion."

In the response, prosecutors wrote they did not plan to mention the Church of Satan. A representative of the church has contacted prosecutors since the crimes, prosecutors wrote, assuring them Harris was not a member of that organization.

What's next?

In February, the Woodbury County Public Defenders Office requesting a change of venue claiming prejudicial media coverage. A hearing was set to discuss the motion, but kept getting pushed back and has not yet taken place.

The trial itself also has been pushed back multiple times. It is now scheduled for Oct. 14.

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