The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

November 18, 2010

Murder suspect: I'm a liar

SUNBURY — During two-hour testimony punctuated by profanity in Northumberland County Court on Wednesday, Michael A. Harrell denied killing two people and said he falsely confessed to protect his family.

At times sarcastic, Harrell, 42, of Sunbury, called investigators names and orally sparred with District Attorney Anthony Rosini.

His odd behavior on the witness stand was explained by defense expert, Philadelphia licensed psychologist William Russell, who described Harrell as having severe mental health issues after suffering abuse from an alcoholic father and having been shot three separate times, once in the head.

"His verbal presentation is weird and he goes off on tangents, utters strange and inappropriate phrases," Russell said.

Also as a result of a low IQ, post-traumatic stress and other mental disorders, Harrell is susceptible to suggestion by law enforcement and may have falsely confessed to fatally shooting Crystal Scholl-Gordon, 24, of Selinsgrove, and David A. Moore, 25, of Sunbury, on Jan. 18, 2008, Russell said.

Russell's findings were disputed by prosecution witness, forensic psychologist Neil Blomberg, who said Harrell suffered from anti-social personality disorder, but had no significant mental defects that would impair his ability to give police a voluntary statement.

The crime happened inside the 226 N. Fourth St., Sunbury, apartment of Amy Baney-Banks, who said she witnessed Harrell kill the couple.

"It was not me," Harrell said, repeatedly denying harming anyone in the apartment and that he left the trio just before midnight Jan. 17, 2008, following a brief, uneventful visit.

Harrell: Held for 8 hours in cold cell

He described being held for eight hours after the murders in a cold holding cell at the Sunbury police department before being interviewed for four hours by state police Cpl. Richard Bramhall and Sunbury police Cpl. Christopher Blase.

When the officers told him he was a suspect in two fatal shootings, Harrell said he vehemently denied involvement.

"I'm barking my innocence at them ... But I got these two idiots telling me I committed the crime," he said, describing a relentless police interrogation in which Harrell was told there was an eyewitness.

At one point he called Blase a "human mummy" to describe his demeanor in the interrogation room.

Harrell said he broke down when the investigators told him that his girlfriend, Melissa Ranck, could face conspiracy charges and her three children placed in foster care.

"I chose to take the rap. Whatever it takes to keep Melissa and the kids safe," he said, explaining why he falsely confessed. "My dad always told me, 'A better man does what's best for family.'"

Rosini seized on the comment, asking, "So it's an act of chivalry that you confessed to this crime?"

Leaning forward in the witness chair, Harrell replied, "I don't know. I don't have any armor."

DA: What about the other woman?

When Rosini asked him about an admitted relationship with another woman at the same time he was with Ranck, Harrell admonished the prosecutor for "going below the belt. Do you have a fixation?"

Pressed to explain why he would confess if he hadn't done anything, an exasperated Harrell said, "I lied ... What part of that are you not getting?"

Later he said his confession was the result of being tired, frustrated and angry after being in custody for more than eight hours.

He was able to provide accurate information about the crime scene, including the location of the bodies and that 15 shots were fired, based on what he was told by investigators during the interrogation.

Rosini said that police didn't know how many bullets were fired until the day after Harrell confessed, when they found a 15th casing in the apartment.

"Nobody knew there were 15 casings at the apartment but you," the prosecutor said.

Harrell said it was a "calculated guess" based on his prior study of guns.

He denied owning a .30-caliber gun, the same type used in the slayings, and said he never told Ranck he did.

Police conducted several searches for the murder weapon but never found it.

When Rosini asked the whereabouts of the .30-caliber weapon, Harrell breezily responded, "Maybe I gave it to Flintstone and he gave it to Kazoo."

Suspect disputes what police said they overheard

Harrell also disputed the testimony of two Northumberland County Prison corrections officers who said they overheard him make incriminating statements inside the jail following the crime.

"Me, talk to police? That is a no-no," he said. "Everyone knows you don't talk around a police officer or a correctional officer."

Judge William H. Wiest is presiding at the nonjury trial that is scheduled to continue today with more expert testimony and closing arguments.

— E-mail comments to mmoore@dailyitem.com

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