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Hagerstown woman shot in Dual Highway home has died

June 15, 2011|By DON AINES | dona@herald-mail.com
  • Heather Harris
Heather Harris

Heather Harris, the Hagerstown woman authorities say was shot twice in the head by her ex-boyfriend last Friday in her Dual Highway home, died Wednesday at Meritus Medical Center, according to a hospital spokeswoman.

A statement from the family on Monday said that Harris’s organs would be harvested to help others. It described her as a woman who “loved children, fishing, dancing and shopping .... Beautifully spirited inside and out.”

Harris, 37, had been in critical condition since the incident, which investigators with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office said might have begun before noon Friday. That was when Randy Houston McPeak, 43, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., called a friend and told her he had killed Harris, according to allegations in the statement of probable cause.

The friend later went to Harris’ house, found McPeak there and called police, the charging documents said. The standoff with police began at about 3 p.m. and ended with McPeak’s surrender at 10 p.m., the documents said.

The county’s Special Response Team was able to get the wounded Harris out of the house at about 7:30 p.m. as McPeak, armed with a small handgun, was isolated outside in an alcove at the front entrance of 1606 Dual Highway.

McPeak, a utilities construction inspector for Washington County, has been held in the Washington County Detention Center without bail since surrendering to police.

He was charged with first-degree attempted murder, burglary, false imprisonment, violating a peace order and other offenses — a list that will change now with Harris’ death.

“In the event that Ms. Harris were to unfortunately expire, this would become a homicide case,” Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael said Tuesday before the announcement of Harris’ death.

Since McPeak is being held without bond, he poses no threat to the community at present, giving prosecutors time to explore its options on how to file additional charges, Michael said Tuesday.

Those options are to amend the charges against McPeak to first-degree murder rather than attempted first-degree murder; file homicide charges separately in District Court; or seek an indictment through the Washington County grand jury, he said.

Waiting also would give prosecutors time to examine all the police reports and forensic evidence before acting on new charges, he said.

“The state would make a determination on what route to take prior to July 7,” when McPeak is scheduled for a preliminary hearing, Michael said.

The family would be consulted on the process, he said.

The maximum penalty for a first-degree murder conviction under the circumstances as prosecutors now understand them is life in prison, Michael said.

“The state is barred by law and our current understanding of the case from filing a notice to seek the death penalty” against McPeak, Michael said.

The charges against McPeak include felonies, but none of the alleged offenses are among those in the list of aggravating circumstances under which prosecutors could seek the death penalty, according to Maryland law.

Aggravating circumstances would include such offenses as a killing committed in the course of a kidnapping, rape, carjacking or robbery, under the law.

Harris had been granted a peace order against McPeak days before the shooting. In her application, she wrote that McPeak had been following her to and from the salon where she worked in Frederick, entered her house without permission and confronted her boyfriend.

In a statement Monday, the family asked that restrictions be placed on the information about petitioners for peace orders that can be released by the courts.

“Mr. McPeak was given information about the whereabouts of Heather the day of the granting for the Temporary Peace Order,” the statement said.

The peace order was served on McPeak on June 3, court records said. Court documents also included a record of continuance dated that same day, which stated that Harris was in Meritus Medical Center on June 3.

The family also asked for stricter laws “regarding accountability for employers that have received complaints about the ... misconduct of an employee during scheduled work hours.”

County Administrator Gregory Murray declined to answer questions about McPeak on Tuesday.

A neighbor said Saturday that she frequently saw what she believed to be a county vehicle outside the house Harris shared with her mother, Brenda Cole.

“Our hope for the future is that no other families will suffer such an unnecessary tragedy,” Cole wrote at the end of the statement. “I ... will miss my best friend the most.”

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