Mom worries as her daughter's attacker prepares to take plea deal

Mom worries as her daughter's attacker prepares to take plea deal

April 19th, 2018 by Zack Peterson in Local Regional News

This photo shows Donna Harris and her daughter, Ashley. (Contributed Photo by Donna Harris)

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Donna Harris has a 1-inch aneurysm growing on the left side of her brain that could kill her at any minute. But the 47-year-old said she's more worried about the possibility of her daughter's attacker being released on probation Friday.

With an orange bandana wrapped around her head on a recent afternoon, Harris read text messages she said Michael Shavers sent her daughter, Ashley Harris, in the days before he shot her and Josh Maples in a Waffle House parking lot in February 2015.

"I will kill everybody," Harris read from one.

This photo shows Donna Harris and her daughter, Ashley. (Contributed Photo by Donna Harris)

This photo shows Donna Harris and her daughter,...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

"Just live while you can," she read from another.

"I am done with u better make peace with ur maker," she read from a third.

A fourth message read "say no more" followed by a picture of Shavers holding up a bullet.

Harris said she shared this information with Chattanooga prosecutors, who charged Shavers, 24, with two counts of attempted first-degree murder, a Class A felony that carries 15 to 60 years, in the shooting.

"But they didn't do anything with it," Harris said.

Instead, she said, prosecutors told her in late March that Shavers would get 10 years' supervised probation on a reduced charge for agreeing to testify in 2017 against his friend and former cellmate, Derek Morse, in the 2014 Lookout Valley triple homicide.

Melydia Clewell, a spokeswoman for the local district attorney's office, confirmed Shavers accepted a plea for his cooperation against Morse and Skyler Allen, who were both convicted for their roles in the triple homicide. A third man, the alleged getaway driver, Jacob Allison, who is Shavers' younger brother, had his murder charges dismissed and received two years' probation for accessory after the fact in February.

Only Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz can overturn or modify the agreement now. Shavers, who is in custody, appears before him at 10:30 a.m. Friday. His attorney, Mike Little, declined to comment.

Clewell said Shavers has no prior violent history. He would be on full-time house arrest and have to wear a GPS monitor, she said. But the state does not have a witness protection program. And the city of Chattanooga can only pay for practical, immediate expenses, like gas or a bus ticket, to help a victim or witness become safer.

Harris said she's afraid for her daughter. She said Shavers has acted on his threats before. Could he do it again?

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Ashley Harris, who will be 26 this year, can't put on jeans anymore without feeling pain from the scars around her stomach and hip, her mom said.

When a car backfires, she jumps.

Now she thinks twice about posting anything on social media that would reveal her location.

On Feb. 11, 2015, Donna Harris said she was standing in her kitchen when her phone rang. She half expected her daughter to ask if she could stay out later — and was prepared to say no. Since her year-or-so-long relationship with Shavers ended that January, Shavers had been sending her threatening messages. It got so bad Ashley Harris lied about being pregnant to protect herself, her mother said.

Instead, Donna Harris heard panic on the other end of the phone: "Mama, he shot me. He shot me, Mama."

Donna Harris said she would later learn the first bullet ripped through the car door, tore through Maples' leg and sliced through Ashley Harris' pelvis. In the moment, though, she had a limited amount of time to save her daughter's life.

"Tell [Josh Maples] to drive!" Harris recalled screaming.

Both of them survived.

Since that night, she's had a stroke and two aneurysms due to stress from the criminal proceeding.

"Most people don't realize that the crazy amount of stress that comes rushing in your body as a victim of a crime doesn't go away, and it does cause various illnesses," said Verna Wyatt, a co-founder of the nonprofit advocacy group Tennessee Voices for Victims. "I know so many victims who have arthritis, some cancers, lupus, and aneurysms."

At first, Donna Harris protected Ashley Harris: She shielded her from news cameras during Shavers' first hearing in 2015. She comforted her whenever Shavers tried to make eye contact during court proceedings. She said she was guided by a prosecutor's promise that Shavers would receive a "lengthy sentence."

Now all she can do is wonder about judges. Do they often overturn agreements between prosecutors and defense attorneys?

"The court could say, 'I'm rejecting this deal, I'm setting a trial date,'" said Chattanooga defense attorney Robin Flores. "I've seen that in the past. But that's rare, that's really rare."

After she read the messages from Shavers, Donna Harris cheated and smoked a cigarette. She knew she shouldn't do anything to increase her stress, but she was worried about Friday's court date.

"If he decides to come after somebody I hope that it's me," Donna Harris said. "I don't want to die, but I'm not afraid to."

Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at zpeterson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zack peterson918.


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