Family tension from recent death boils over in courtroom

Family tension from recent death boils over in courtroom

February 26th, 2011 by Todd South in News

Years of "bad blood" between two local families and emotions over the recent death of a teenager spilled into court Friday.

Family and friends of Margaret Harris, 37, and James Dominick Sherrell, 17, nearly filled General Sessions Judge Clarence Shattuck's courtroom.

Staff Photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press Margaret Harris attends a hearing with her representative Lloyd Levitt in Judge Clarence Shattuck's courtroom Friday afternoon. Harris is accused of fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy after a fight that occurred last week.

Before the hearing began, deputies had to stop a brewing fight outside the courtroom between families of Harris and Sherrell.

Harris is accused of killing Sherrell by shooting him in the abdomen with a pistol following a street fight on Feb. 18, according to court documents. Sherrell was the boyfriend of Harris' daughter, LaToya Harris.

After nearly two hours of questioning by prosecutor Darren Gibson and defense attorney Lloyd Levitt, Shattuck ruled that Harris' case would be sent to the Hamilton County grand jury for possible indictment. He did not grant a bond to Harris.

Both Gibson and Levitt detailed lengthy disputes between Harris and Sherrell family members. At one point, the feuds were characterized as a modern-day version of the infamous "Hatfields and McCoys," a reference to bloody rivalries between members of the families over a decade in rural lands of West Virginia and Kentucky.

Moments before the hearing began and court officers had broken up verbal arguments outside the courtroom, Gibson opened the door to bring in an eyewitness to the shooting - Marquis Woods, Sherrell's cousin.

"I don't want to go in there," the wide-eyed 16-year-old told Gibson. "I'm not going in there."

But with a subpoena, Woods relented.

After Chattanooga police investigator Michael Tilley recounted his interviews with Harris and seven witnesses to the shooting, attorneys questioned Woods.

Standing before Shattuck, Woods mostly looked at the floor, mumbling answers. He was reminded repeatedly to speak louder.

According to testimony, the violence that led to Sherrell's death started about 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 18 when a fight broke out at a school bus stop among teens near 1308 N. Orchard Knob Ave.

Woods told how he and Sherrell were at the address when another brawl involving some of the same teens erupted as LaToya Harris and two of her sisters arrived. During the fighting, Woods said he and Margaret Harris fought as Bryant Hill, boyfriend to Margaret Harris, picked up Sherrell and slammed him to the ground.

When the brawl slowed, Hill and Margaret Harris got into a car. When Woods and Sherrell approached the driver's side of the car, Sherrell reached through a half-open window and tried to choke Hill, who was in the driver's seat, for about a minute, Woods testified.

When Hill fought him off, Woods and Sherrell backed about 10 feet from the car. That's when Margaret Harris, got out of the passenger side of the car and pointed a pistol at the cousins over the roof of the car and fired one shot, Woods said.

The bullet hit Sherrell in the stomach. He died shortly afterward at a local hospital.

Margaret Harris found out about the fight through a phone call at her work and Shattuck said he might have given her bond if she had rushed directly from work to the fight in order to help her daughter.

"But this momma gets a call, goes home to pick up a gun and then rushes down there," Shattuck said.

Gibson argued against a bond, pointing out that, during the fight, Margaret Harris could have left and Hill could have driven away.

"We could have a kid with a bloody nose and some hurt feelings," he said. "Instead we've got a dead 17-year-old."