LINCOLN, Ill. – The stepmother of a suspect in the slayings of a central Illinois family said Friday that police arrested the wrong person and described her stepson as a gentle man who always walked away from confrontation.
"We're all devastated," Debbie Harris of Lincoln told The Associated Press. "There is no way he did this. I think he's being used as a scapegoat."
Christopher Harris, 30, was arrested Thursday in the bludgeoning deaths of five members of his ex-wife's family in the tiny town of Beason last month. He was charged Friday with five counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder and could face the death penalty if convicted.
Harris was divorced several years ago from Nicole Gee, whose father, his wife and three of their children were killed. Harris and Gee had reconciled, intended to marry again and recently had a second child together, Debbie Harris said.
Chris Harris has been working as a cook at a Steak 'n Shake in Lincoln while also studying architecture at Lincoln College, where he got A and B grades, his stepmother said. In his free time, he enjoyed taking his family boating on area rivers and lakes, she said.
"He is mild mannered with a good sense of humor," Debbie Harris said, adding her stepson was never prone to violence. "That was not in his nature."
Raymond "Rick" Gee, 46, and Ruth Gee, 39, were found dead in their Beason home Sept. 21 with their children, 16-year-old Justina Constant, 14-year-old Dillen Constant and 11-year-old Austin Gee. Police have said they were killed by blunt force trauma preceded by a "violent struggle." A 3-year-old daughter was found alive but seriously injured.
Debbie Harris said her stepson had a good relationship with the Gee family, frequently dropping off his own children for the day.
"There is no motive here," she said. "There was no reason. This is why we are in shock."
Police not only searched Chris Harris' home, Debbie Harris said, they also search hers and the home of another stepson — testing bathtubs and cars for traces of blood. She said they found none.
"Everything's come up empty-handed," she said. "Nothing adds up."
Authorities have offered few details about Harris' arrest, including a possible motive.
Friday, Harris appeared in Logan County court in black-and-white striped prison garb and replied "yes, sir" twice to questions from the judge, who appointed a public defender. Harris sat through the hearing with his head bowed.
Logan County Sheriff Steven Nichols has said officers recovered a gray pickup truck they had been seeking after it was spotted in Beason around the time of the killings. A truck matching the description of the one authorities sought was parked outside Nicole Gee's house for days after the murder.
Debbie Harris said authorities removed her stepson's truck in the middle of this week.
Funeral services for the family were held Monday. Hundreds of friends and acquaintances attended and heard the Gees' relatives recall them as kind, simple people with warm hearts.