For Harper, a ‘hollow’ victory in murder case

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; District Attorney Ronnie Harper found no cause to celebrate when Jeffery Havard was sentenced to death Thursday.

Harper had spent months building a case against Havard for the Feb. 21 murder of 6-month-old Chloe Madison Britt.

But after hearing Judge Forrest &uot;Al&uot; Johnson read the jury’s verdict, Harper said even though he knew justice had been done, he was left with &uot;a hollow feeling.&uot;

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The evidence Harper and Assistant District Attorney Tom Rosenblatt brought to the courtroom this week was overwhelming.

Witness after witness testified to the ravaged condition of the victim’s tiny body. Forensics experts from the state crime lab in Jackson delivered cold details of the girl’s violent abuse and subsequent death. Most damning to the defense, though, Harper said, was a videotaped statement taken two days after the murder, in which Havard admitted to shaking the infant.

The case for seeking the death penalty was strong, as well.

According to state law, a murder must meet one of a number of strict criteria to warrant a death sentence.

Regardless of Havard’s intentions, he was eligible for the death penalty because he killed Britt in the commission of sexual battery.

&uot;The statute is very clear on it,&uot; Harper said.

In 15 years on the job, Harper said he had come across no other case that so definitively called for the ultimate punishment.

&uot;I can’t imagine one that’s more heinous than this,&uot; he said. &uot;If not this one, which one?&uot;

Going into court, Harper said he was confident he would get a conviction. And while a jury’s decision is always unpredictable, Harper said he wasn’t surprised with the death sentence.

Even so, Harper said he gained no satisfaction from sending a man to his death. The punishment, he said, is fitting for such a terrible crime, but it won’t stop the waves of misery radiating from a helpless baby’s murder.

The Britt family will continue to mourn the loss of a life that never had a chance to grow, and Havard’s family will be forced to come to terms with the stubborn facts and grim outcome of a brutal crime.

&uot;It’s a sad, sad case all the way around,&uot; Harper said. &uot;There’s no winners.&uot;