When Jimmie Harris Jr. was freed for the first time last year, he had nearly five months left on his seven-year prison sentence for shooting a man three times.
Despite Harris' violent outbursts behind bars, state officials wanted him to serve the rest of his sentence outside prison walls. All he had to do was stay at home most of the time and wear an electronic monitor.
But he didn't follow those rules. Less than three weeks into his supervised early release in March 2013, Harris told state agents that he would rather be locked up. He got his wish.
He served another month in jail until the agents issued a final ultimatum: Go free and live by the book, or go to prison and finish the sentence.
"He communicated to us that he would abide by his electronic monitoring," said Peter O'Boyle, a spokesman for the state's probation and parole agency, "or at least he said that to get out of jail."
It was a second chance for the 25-year-old man known in North Charleston's Dorchester-Waylyn community to settle scores with his hands or his guns. But his suspected exploits over the next year have raised questions about how the state releases violent felons early and how courts grant low bail for defendants with a documented history of fleeing.
Three days after he was let go a second time, the agents lost track of him. During the next three months, authorities said, he shot a federal witness in Walterboro.
Harris eventually was arrested on new drug charges and forced to serve the rest of his time behind bars. But two months after he posted $10,000 bail on the drug charges, detectives in North Charleston tagged him as a possible suspect in the slayings of two women on New Year's Day - a string of crimes with hallmarks similar to the Walterboro shooting.
Laura Hudson, executive director of the nonprofit S.C. Crime Victims' Council, said current laws requiring judges to consider a defendant's flight risk should have called for a higher bail that could have kept Harris behind bars longer.
"That's the most ridiculous part," Hudson said. "He's a proven flight risk and a danger to the community. ... Why would we ever let him have a low bond?"
His run came to an end when he was arrested last month in Charlotte after lawmen said they got into a gunfight with him.
O'Boyle said the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services hadn't "dropped the ball" in Harris' case. How it was handled was standard, he said.
"He was just a bad guy and wasn't going to comply," O'Boyle said. "He essentially had served his sentence and was supposed to get out on community supervision. But we didn't realize how bad he was."
A troubled start
Harris was 6 when his father was convicted of robbery and sent to prison for a decade.
As a boy, Harris also became known among North Charleston authorities as a criminal. His juvenile history, though, is sealed from public view.
After he turned 17, he got into an argument in April 2006 with someone on Ranger Drive in Dorchester-Waylyn, a hot spot for violence and drugs. He punched the man's head. When the man fell, Harris whipped him with a belt.
Harris was arrested.
But that July, he was back in Dorchester-Waylyn, beckoning a rival to step out of a house. The man walked out, and they argued. Harris shot the man three times when he tried to run. A bullet hit his head, but he survived.
In jail, authorities said, Harris joined forces with Solomon Chisolm, then a feared drug dealer and suspected killer from Charleston's East Side. They kicked and punched a fellow inmate who had crossed them in February 2007, records show.
Nearly two years after the shooting, Harris pleaded guilty to assault and battery with intent to kill. Ninth Circuit Judge Markley Dennis gave him a seven-year sentence with credit for the time he spent in jail.
His tendency to lash out and buck authority persisted in prison.
Unhappy with his plea deal, he sent letters to Charleston County Clerk of Court Julie Armstrong that demanded evidence in the shooting. He paid a fee but never got the information, he complained. Clerks refused to process his requests because of how he wrote them.
"I don't know who the (expletive) you really is and I don't give a (expletive)," he wrote to Armstrong in early 2010. "All I'm concern about is my (expletive) money or my motion."
For five years, Harris floated between four prisons.
He was disciplined for possessing contraband, damaging property, injuring inmates and exposing his private parts.
Because his original crime was violent, Harris wasn't eligible for parole. If he had behaved, though, he could have qualified for early release once he did 85 percent of his time.
He wasn't approved for release until he served 95 percent. He walked free on March 1, 2013.
A second chance
Ten days later, Harris was supposed to go to the North Charleston parole office and answer questions.
A computer program would use his responses to calculate the likelihood that he would commit another crime.
But he didn't show up for the session.
He was supposed to be on house detention and wear an electronic monitor.
But when parole agents visited his family's home, he wasn't there.
Agents finally caught up with him on March 18 last year. He didn't want to follow the conditions, he told them, so he would rather do his time, an arrest affidavit stated.
The violation landed him in Charleston County's jail for the next 36 days.
In mid-April, though, the parole department talked with Harris during a hearing. If he wanted to get out, agents told him, he had to wear the monitor and stay home at night and on weekends.
"He indicated his willingness to cooperate," the agency spokesman, O'Boyle, said. "A month in jail apparently changed his attitude."
He had about 100 days left to serve.
He went home April 23. But his place didn't have a telephone line, which his monitoring device needed to send information to agents, O'Boyle said. They were working to solve that problem, he said.
Two days later, the agents went to visit him, but he wasn't there. Five days after that, his grandmother said she had no idea where Harris was.
"He's not here," his mother told agents when they checked on him a third time. "He hasn't been here in days."
State law allows parole agents to sign their own arrest warrants. Agent Christopher Summerville drafted one for Harris on May 15, but agents wouldn't see him again until three months later.
During that time, federal investigators said, he seized an opportunity to make some quick cash as a hit man.
On June 6, they said, Harris walked up to a house in Walterboro, pulled out two handguns and fired into the wall. Ivory Brothers, who was sitting on the living room couch, was critically wounded.
Shell casings from two weapons - a .38- or .357-caliber handgun and a .40-caliber pistol - fell to the ground outside.
But federal agents didn't have any evidence to arrest Harris then on charges that he tried to kill Brothers, a key witness in a drug conspiracy they cracked.
Another defendant in the case had met Harris when they were both jailed that spring. Harris' cellmate, Martin Louis Ballard, would give him $5,000 up front and another $5,000 if the hit were successful, court documents stated.
"That's obviously an error if he went straight out and shot someone," Hudson, the victims' advocate, said. "It seems wishy-washy that they would believe him and let him out again."
Time runs out
Another month passed, and Harris was still on the lam.
His time as a fugitive ended July 9 in Dorchester-Waylyn - his old stomping grounds where people called him by his street name, "Black."
That night, a North Charleston police officer tried to stop the motorcycle he was riding. Harris ran, but he was soon caught on Louise Drive with marijuana and cocaine in his pockets, an arrest affidavit stated.
Harris was jailed on charges of possessing crack cocaine and intending to distribute powdered cocaine. He wouldn't get a chance to post the $10,000 bail that Magistrate James Gosnell set, though, until he finished his prison sentence.
With Harris behind bars in September, 9th Circuit Judge Stephanie McDonald formally revoked his community supervision and sentenced him to four months in prison. Then in October, the judge wanted to tack on more community supervision once Harris served the prison time, O'Boyle said.
But by then, he said, Harris had paid his debt. A newly enacted law also barred courts from adding to a prisoner's sentence by requiring more supervised release.
Harris posted bail on the drug charges and walked free Nov. 7.
"His time had run out," O'Boyle said. "He was not being supervised by anybody."
With his newfound freedom, Harris created a Facebook page. On it, he wrote that he had gone to work in Dorchester-Waylyn's "trap," street slang for a neighborhood drug market.
By the end of November, he posted a photograph of himself holding up two firearms. His left hand clutched a large revolver. His right grasped a handgun with a long magazine; it resembled a compact submachine gun.
Before the sun rose for the first time in 2014, someone walked up to three homes in North Charleston and unleashed a volley of gunshots at each.
The tactic was similar to the one that targeted the federal witness in Walterboro.
Though Harris has been considered a possible suspect, according to a sheriff's incident report, the North Charleston Police Department has not charged anyone in the Jan. 1 shootings.
The gunfire started at 4:50 a.m. on Aintree Avenue, when 41-year-old Sabrina Green heard a knock at her door. She went to see who it was when bullets started coming at her.
Green was hit in the head and the hip, but she survived.
Her husband thought the attack was intended for her nephew, 22-year-old Montreal Ford, he told the police. Ford wasn't home. Once a resident of Dorchester-Waylyn, he has arrests on charges of intending to sell cocaine and marijuana. The police haven't said whether he's connected to Harris.
Fifty minutes after the first shooting, bullets pierced a home on Niagara Street in Dorchester-Waylyn. Janet Royal, 52, was fatally struck in the chest.
Outside, shell casings from .38- and .45-caliber handguns littered the front yard.
Two miles away and an hour later, bullets riddled windows of a house on Ventura Drive. Some of them hit Debra Randall Martin, 49, and she fell dead on the living-room floor.
Early on, North Charleston police detectives asked the Charleston County Sheriff's Office for its help in tracking down Harris. Two days later, deputies caught up with him in downtown Charleston. He agreed to be questioned, the sheriff's incident report stated.
The marijuana that the officers said they found on Harris was enough to keep him in jail for only 20 hours. The next day, he posted $620 bail.
He left for Charlotte sometime after that. He didn't show up for a Feb. 20 court appearance on the marijuana charge, so a magistrate convicted him.
Five days later, he was indicted in the Walterboro shooting. Federal marshals looked, but they couldn't find him.
He instead popped up a month later in Charlotte.
On March 20, Harris showed up for a drug deal in the Queen City but instead robbed the undercover officer and street informant he had agreed to meet, according to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. He then jumped into a car that a woman was driving, the police added.
When officers tried to stop the car, Harris got out and shot at them, they said. A sergeant fired back, but nobody was hit. Harris fatally shot a dog as he ran away, the police added.
He was arrested the next day and remained in jail there on Friday.
"Innocent," Harris told WBTV reporters as officers escorted him in handcuffs. "Yeah, innocent."
Harris will return to Charleston someday and face charges in the Walterboro shooting, Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Phillips said. The prosecutor declined to talk about the other allegations against Harris.
North Charleston detectives this week were still trying to tie a suspect to the New Year's Day slaying in which Harris was questioned, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said. He refused to confirm Friday whether Harris remains a possible suspect.
In the communities whose residents were puzzled by the shootings, bullet holes have been patched on the facades of the homes that were targeted.
Three weeks ago, a new tenant moved into the house in Dorchester-Waylyn. The woman had noticed the holes, but she knew nothing about how they got there, she said this week.
A cross still hung from the door of the house on Aintree Avenue. To the left, a cardboard sign featured words scribbled in black marker. It said, "Please ring doorbell."
Nobody was home.
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.
Jimmie Harris Jr., 25, was questioned in connection with a Jan. 1 fatal shooting at this house on Ventura Drive.×
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