A convicted murderer has lost his appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia in relation to his life sentence for killing a young prostitute in a Cobb hotel room in 2013, according to an opinion published by the justices of the state’s highest court.
Ricardo Laron Harris, of New York, was convicted and sentenced in Cobb County in 2015 for the murder of 19-year-old Atlanta sex worker Yvonne Denise James at a hotel off Interstate 75 at Delk Road on New Year’s Day in 2013.
James and her pimp, Austell resident Ancil Anthony Neil, had rented a room at the hotel for a week around the end of 2012 and Harris was one of their clients, records show.
Just before 4 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2013, Harris entered the hotel to be with James, while Neil was secretly keeping watch on the room from outside in the parking lot, court records show.
James texted Neil around 4:40 a.m. to say she was getting dressed, but Harris did not leave the room as expected by a client, prompting Neil to check on James, authorities said.
James was found submerged in the bathtub with a pillow over her head and was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.
The autopsy at the Cobb Medical Examiner’s Office showed she received multiple injuries to her head and face and had been drowned.
There were holes in the hotel room walls, authorities said.
“According to the Cobb County medical examiner, James had injuries consistent with having been struck with a blunt object or fist,” the justices’ opinion stated. “She had been struck so hard that a small bead with a wrinkled, cracked finish similar to Harris’ beaded necklace had become embedded in her face. The medical examiner opined that the injuries to the victim’s body were akin to her being shoved into or through a wall. He determined that the cause of death was a homicide due to blunt force head trauma associated with probable strangulation and drowning.”
Both Harris and Neil, aged 32 and 24 respectively at the time, were arrested and charged in relation to the incident.
Harris was eventually found guilty by a trial jury of murder and concealing the death of another, for which he was sentenced to life in prison.
Neil initially faced charges of concealing a death, misdemeanor theft and tampering with evidence, in relation to taking James’ cellphone from the hotel room and making an attempt, with Harris, to clean up the room before calling 911.
Neil pleaded guilty to concealing a death and was sentenced to two years in prison before being released on time served, court records show.
Harris tried to get a new trial with a new defense lawyer in 2015, but in February 2019 his motion was denied, prompting his appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia.
“Harris contends that the trial court erred in admitting his pre-trial statements into evidence and that trial counsel was ineffective,” the justices said in their Jan. 13 opinion.
But they found that Harris had ignored his first attorney’s advice in making statements during the case, and therefore the resulting conviction was not his lawyer’s fault.
“Harris alone bears the legal responsibility for any prejudice to his defense that resulted as a consequence of his custodial statement,” the justices stated in their opinion, which effectively upholds Harris’ murder conviction and life sentence.
Police claimed Harris repeatedly lied to officers during the murder investigation, changing his version of events several times.