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Former Deputy And Preacher A Suspect In The 1983 Rape And Murder Of 11-Year-Old Girl
Authorities say James Howard Harrison may have abused his authority to commit other crimes during his career in law enforcement.
Authorities in Florida say they’ve closed the 1983 case of a child’s murder and named a former deputy as the “only probable suspect.”
Lora Ann Huizar was just 11 years old when a uniformed patrol deputy spotted her on Nov. 3, 1983, during her walk home from a local gas station, according to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities say that deputy was James Howard Harrison, who’d been assigned to patrol the area, as well as the location where Huizar’s body was found three days later.
As stated at Tuesday’s press conference, Huizar was within eyeshot of her home.
“We have established probable cause to determine that Harrison abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered the juvenile victim and later altered the crime scene by placing the victim in a drainage ditch in an attempt to destroy physical evidence,” said Chief Deputy Brian Hester.
The St. Lucie Sheriff's Office told Oxygen.com that Huizar's cause of death was asphyxiation.
Hester stated the sheriff’s office had probable cause but could not pursue charges against Harrison because he died in 2008.
According to the statement, Harrison instructed two witnesses to leave the crime scene about 20 minutes before additional officers had the chance to arrive.
At the press conference, cold case detective Paul Taylor said those witnesses were never again interviewed by law enforcement until he picked the case back up in 2021. Taylor compared the witness statements with original crime scene photos and deduced the body’s location and position had changed within that 20-minute window.
“It was very graphic, it was very vivid,” Taylor said of the witnesses’ accounts. “They had a very good recollection of everything that they saw on the scene that day.”
Detective Taylor said he sat with Huizar’s relatives after identifying Harrison as the likely killer.
“They were distraught, to say the least,” said Taylor. “The first thing they told me was, ‘we’re glad it wasn’t somebody we actually knew,’ that it wasn’t a family member or anyone along those lines.”
St. Lucie investigators looked into Harrison’s background, learning his decades-long career was marred with misconduct accusations. At the press conference, Sheriff Ken Mascara claimed he’d personally worked with Harrison decades ago and had even filed a complaint with his supervisors about Harrison and his alleged “inappropriate relationships with young adults” around 1979 or 1980.
Supervisors then advised Mascara that Harrison was a preacher was who was “spiritually mentoring” at-risk children and teenagers.
“In my mind, I wonder if he was using his authority as a deputy sheriff and his standing as a preacher in the community to go ahead and violate children during the entire course of his life,” said Mascara.
Mascara added that Harrison resigned “after accusations were made” in 1984.
In 2021, investigators obtained a search warrant to exhume Harrison’s body and create a DNA profile. They hoped to compare it to male DNA collected from the victim’s rape kit, but it had degraded over the years.
“Approximately 2% of cold cases in the United Stated ever get solved,” Taylor said in the sheriff’s office statement. “The day I solved this case for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office was both the worst and best day of my 30-year career in law enforcement. Nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop, and it felt bittersweet to finally provide the victim’s family with some long-awaited answers.”
According to the sheriff’s office’s statement, Harrison worked at 10 separate law enforcement agencies in Florida since the 1960s.
“During this time, he exhibited a pattern of inappropriate behavior involving juvenile females,” Hester wrote. “This pattern has led detectives to believe that Harrison may be responsible for other sexual assault cases across the state.”
Anyone with information about the Huizar murder, or any other case related to former Deputy Harrison, is urged to the St. Lucie County Criminal Investigation Division at 1-772-462-3230.