McPeak pleads guilty to 1st-degree murder in death of Hagerstown woman

Police standoff followed June slaying of Heather Harris in her Dual Highway home

November 28, 2011|By DON AINES |
  • Heath Bates, brother of Heather Harris, talks to the media outside the Washington County Courthouse on Monday after Randy Houston McPeak pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and related charges in the June shooting death of Harris at her Dual Highway home.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — As Heather Harris lay mortally wounded in the hallway of her Dual Highway home in Hagerstown on June 10, Randy Houston McPeak tried to disguise his voice to sound like hers to convince a police negotiator on the telephone that she was unharmed.

That was one of the revelations Monday as McPeak, 44, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court in Hagerstown to first-degree murder and related charges in the shooting death of his ex-girlfriend and the seven-hour police standoff that followed.

McPeak entered the guilty pleas before circuit Judge M. Kenneth Long Jr., who ordered a presentence investigation. The judge said that would take about 60 days to complete.

Deputy State’s Attorney Joseph Michael told Long the prosecution will seek life in prison without parole, the maximum penalty for first-degree murder, as well as additional sentences for use of a handgun in commission of a crime of violence, stalking, false imprisonment and two counts of violating a peace order.

“The facts and circumstances surrounding the case influence my client’s decision to take responsibility for this tragic event,” McPeak’s attorney, D. Benson Thompson III, said after the plea hearing. “After meeting with the state and Judge Long, we felt we could get the appropriate disposition.

“I don’t believe life without parole is an appropriate sentence,” Thomspon said.

“He’s hoping the court will show him mercy, which is more than he showed Heather Harris,” Michael said of McPeak after the hearing.

“It’s one step closer to finalizing this and laying it to rest .... It’s closure,” said Harris’s brother, Heath Bates. “The death penalty would be a wiser choice .... I don’t see why the taxpayers should pay for his housing the rest of his life when, in fact, he took someone’s life.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Christopher McCormack told the court that when Special Response Team members first entered Harris’ home more than seven hours after she was shot, she was gasping for air and still able to move one arm. A medic told investigators that Harris, who died five days after the shooting, still had “purposeful movement,” McCormack said.

McPeak’s standoff with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office and the county Special Response Team kept Harris from receiving medical attention for hours, McCormack told the judge.

“The defendant’s callous actions prevented this from happening,” McCormack said in court.
McPeak had on several occasions violated a temporary peace order Harris had obtained against him, including going to Meritus Medical Center on June 3 when Harris had been admitted to the hospital, McCormack told the judge.

‘I did it, she’s dead’

Harris, 37, of 1606 Dual Highway, had been shot twice in the head shortly before noon, but it was about 7 1/2 hours before members of the Special Response Team removed her from the rear of the house.

McPeak had driven his work vehicle from the Washington County Department of Water Quality that morning and parked it a restaurant a short distance from the home Harris shared with her mother, Brenda Cole.

After shooting Harris, McPeak called a friend, who was later able to find where Harris lived, spoke briefly with McPeak and then called police at 2:48 p.m.

“I did it. I did it, she’s dead,” McPeak told the friend in a phone call, McCormack said. When the friend asked about summoning an ambulance, McPeak told her: “There’s no point. She’s dead,” McCormack told the court.

When the friend showed up at Harris’ home, McPeak told her to “Go away .... Don’t call the cops,” McCormack told the court.

McPeak surrendered at about 10 p.m. At times during the standoff, he could be seen on the front porch brandishing a small handgun, at one point sticking the muzzle in his mouth.

A .25-caliber handgun was found by police after McPeak surrendered. Inside his car parked at the Department of Water Quality near Williamsport, police found a .380-caliber handgun, along with .25-caliber ammunition, McCormack said during the plea hearing.

At a Nov. 14 hearing, Thompson sought to have statements by McPeak and evidence taken in a search of his car excluded from his trial, which was scheduled to begin next week.

In a videotaped interview with police played at the hearing, McPeak could be heard claiming that Harris shot herself in the head once, then got up and shot herself again.

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