LAFAYETTE — The retrial of Daniel Joseph Harmon, accused in the slaying of 19-year-old Christine Marie Wood almost 24 years ago, began Tuesday.
A grand jury indicted Harmon in 2006 for the slaying based on DNA identification unavailable when the killing occurred in 1989.
Wood’s body was found in a burned-out apartment “with her fists clenched,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Hamilton told the jury of nine women and five men selected Tuesday. Two jurors are alternates.
Hamilton said in opening statements that an autopsy determined Wood died before an intentionally set fire burned the second-floor Marigny Circle apartment on July 25, 1989.
Wood’s neck was slashed and she had three “gunshot wounds to the head,” Hamilton said. “The evidence will show she never got up from the floor.”
Wood also had sex with someone before she died, and years later DNA will show it was Harmon, Hamilton said.
Alfred Boustany, Harmon’s attorney, told jurors there is no evidence Harmon was in Wood’s apartment, and identifying who she had sex with before she died would not necessarily identify her killer.
“You’re going to answer one question: Did he murder her?” Boustany said.
The court file on the Wood killing is almost 24 years old and contains different suspects, missing witnesses and a reduction in the charge against Harmon.
Harmon is standing trial for second-degree murder instead of the first-degree murder charge a grand jury leveled against him in 2006.
In 2009, according to court records, prosecutors amended the charge to second-degree murder. If convicted of the reduced charge, Harmon will serve a mandatory life sentence without parole.
There’s also been one mistrial, declared in November 2011, by Judge Ed Rubin because Harmon did not make an on-the-record waiver of his right to a jury trial.
The bench trial, with Rubin as judge, was halted after one day.
Boustany told jurors that on the night before her death, Wood was drinking liquor at the Bull’s Eye Tavern, “a place she went to often … and she stayed there for some time” before going home to Marigny Circle.
“What we do know is the area of Marigny Circle was not a very nice area,” Boustany said. “It’s still not a nice area.”
He said she met men that night, with one saying he’d had “relations” with Wood, who kept a shotgun on the side of her bed.
“There’s not one shred of evidence that Danny Harmon was ever in that apartment,” Boustany said.
And if Harmon did have sex with Wood, “if it is his DNA, does that mean he killed her? No,” Boustany said.
Harmon has been locked up for a little more than a month at the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center, Hamilton said after the jury was selected.
Court documents show the District Attorney’s Office charged Harmon with four counts of failure to register as a sex offender in Lafayette Parish.
Harmon entered the courtroom Tuesday in a wheelchair. The 44-year-old’s right leg is missing below the hip. Hamilton would not say how or when Harmon lost his leg.
The trial continues at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Judge Glennon P. Everette’s courtroom.