EDNA, Texas – A former Texas prison employee suspected of a being a serial rapist accused of targeting older women will be handcuffed and shackled during his trial after his defense attorney made the request.
Testimony was scheduled to begin Tuesday in the trial of Billy Joe Harris, 54, who is charged with aggravated sexual assault of a disabled person. Jury selection for his trial was completed Monday, the Victoria Advocate (http://bit.ly/rpbrFe) reported.
Harris' attorney, Alan Cohen, plans to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
District Judge Skipper Koetter said restraining Harris was highly prejudicial but that he would allow it for the safety of his attorney and courtroom personnel.
"The last time we had an outburst, it took four deputies to restrain him and I am not going to put them in that position again," Koetter said. "If they can put a hand on him and put him back in the chair, that's fine. If that doesn't work, we'll have to take more extreme measures."
Authorities believe Harris is the man known as "The Twilight Rapist." The Texas Department of Public Safety has said DNA samples linked Harris to six assaults or attempted assaults over the past two years involving women 65 to 91 years old, and authorities suspect Harris' involvement in other cases. Harris was arrested Jan. 8 in Edna, about 100 southwest of Houston.
Harris, of Missouri City, was a longtime state prison employee who also worked in the field of home health care.
One of the victims, a 66-year-old, was attacked twice, despite moving across town following the first assault. The attacks rattled so many women that older volunteers at a Yoakum library began locking the doors during business hours, and organizers at one community meeting gave away pepper spray as door prizes.
Harris was found about 100 miles from Rosharon, where he worked in the kitchen of a Texas state prison. Harris had worked in state correctional facilities on an off for about 12 years since 1995, according to state records.
His jobs included two stints at the once-troubled Texas Youth Commission, which was overhauled several years ago in wake of a widespread sex abuse scandal involving guards attacking juvenile inmates.
Harris bounced around to several prisons around the state, working mostly in food service. Background checks before his hiring revealed no prior criminal history, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Following a string of attacks starting in 2009, authorities believed they were looking for one suspect who became known as "The Twilight Rapist" because most of the attacks occurred around dawn. Investigators found evidence of careful planning at the many crime scenes, including cut phone lines outside homes and unscrewed porch lights.
Harris was also indicted in Jackson County on a charge of burglary of a habitation with the intent to commit sexual assault. Harris also has pending charges in DeWitt County.
Information from: The Victoria Advocate, http://www.victoriaadvocate.com