FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. (May 20, 2011) — Following nearly three years of delays and a change of venue to a different county, the junior enlisted Marine who police say killed a Camden County woman and her unborn child while he was driving drunk learned Tuesday afternoon that he will spend ten years in state prison.
John W. Harrison, 23, was a lance corporal at Fort Leonard Wood on Sunday, Nov. 9, 2008, when, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol reports, he was driving northbound about noon in a 1999 Ford F-250 pickup on Camden County Route A about 1.5 miles north of Route E, entered a left-hand curve too fast for conditions, ran off the left side of the roadway, struck a fence and overturned. His passenger, Ashley R. Parks, 21, of Gravois Mills, was partially ejected and pronounced dead on the scene by the deputy medical examiner at 1:30 p.m.
Fort Leonard Wood public affairs personnel couldn’t confirm Friday afternoon that Harrison, who in 2008 was part of the Marine Corps Detachment, was still on active duty in the Marine Corps or what his discharge status was from the military. Court records show a Fort Leonard Wood address for him as late as this year, but that isn’t necessarily correct.
Harrison, then under the legal drinking age of 21, faced initial charges from state troopers of driving while intoxicated, careless and imprudent driving resulting in an accident, being a minor in possession of alcohol by consumption, and felony involuntary manslaughter. Neither Harrison nor Parks had been wearing their seat belts, troopers reported; Harrison’s pickup was totaled. However, Harrison suffered only minor injuries and refused medical treatment.
Harrison’s initial attorney, Ronda Cortesini of Waynesville, quickly requested a change of venue from Camden County on Jan. 29, 2009, just weeks after she was hired by Harrison, but that motion was denied in mid-February. The case was bound over from associate circuit court to circuit court on March 11, 2009, and Cortesini again filed a change of venue request on June 3, 2009; with the prosecutors no longer objecting, the case was transferred to Laclede County. Cortesini received permission to withdraw from the case on June 22, 2009.
Harrison’s new lawyer, Karie Elizabeth Comstock, took over on July 7. 2009, and numerous delays happened centering on an amended criminal information statement that was sent down from the 26th Circuit Court to the Laclede County Associate Circuit Court, where a judge ruled on October 10, 2010, that Laclede County judges had no jurisdiction and the preliminary hearing on the new criminal information statement had to be heard in the county where the alleged offense occurred. The case was bound over a second time from Camden County associate circuit court to the 26th Circuit Court on Nov. 3, 2010, with a two-day jury trial scheduled for March 14 and 15 of this year.
That jury trial didn’t happen. Instead, on March 16, the case was heard in chambers by Circuit Judge Stan Moore, who found Harrison guilty of the Class B felony of first-degree involuntary manslaughter for causing the death of Parks and her unborn child. On Tuesday of this week, the same judge, after reviewing a requested sentencing advisory report, issued the sentence of 10 years in state prison.
In addition to the criminal penalties, Harrison also owes $6,000 to the public defender’s office and $68 court costs.
This week’s court case wasn’t the only one faced by Harrison.
In 2009, Andrea Greener of Gravois Mills and Kelly Parks filed a wrongful death civil lawsuit against Harrison. That case was filed on Feb. 17, 2009 and quickly settled on March 10 with a judgment that wasn’t outlined in detail in online court records. Unlike the criminal case, the civil case was handled in Camden County.
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