The Supreme Court let stand yesterday an appeals court ruling overturning a Northern Virginia man's murder conviction on grounds he was tried twice for the same crime.
The justices refused to hear Virginia's appeal of a federal court ruling that Terry Lee Harris, now 35, was placed in double jeopardy over the 1971 shotgun slaying of a 16-year-old Prince William County girl.
A three-judge federal appeals court panel ruled in October that Harris' conviction was improper and that he must be freed from the state penitentiary at Richmond, where he had been imprisioned since Oct. 27, 1972.
The appellate panel held that Harris, a Haymarket resident, was unconstitutionally subjected to double jeopardy because of an order by Circuit Court Judge Percy Thornton Jr. Thornton abruptly halded Harris's first trial by declaring a mistrial after a dispute over photographic evidence.
Harris was retried in 1972 before Thornton who found him guilty of first-degree murder and unlawful use of firearm. He was sentenced to life in prision on the murder charge and to 50 years on the weapons charge.
The appeals court held that Thornton erred by declaring the mistrial. "Because the first trial was improperly aborted, Harris had a constitutional right not to be retried and his subsequent conviction cannot stand," said a ruling by Clement F. Haynsworth, chief judge of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.