Apartment building's former handyman accused of raping, murdering tenant

Apartment's ex-handyman accused of raping, killing tenant
Apartment's ex-handyman accused of raping, killing tenant

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Apartment's ex-handyman accused of raping, killing tenant 01:31

Story highlights

  • Apartment's ex-handyman accused of raping, killing a 27-year-old tenant
  • James Harris, a career criminal, killed his father in the 1980s

(CNN)A Philadelphia apartment building's former handyman is accused in the "heinous murder" of a tenant, according to police.

The Philadelphia Police Department said 56-year-old James Harris was charged Friday with "murder, robbery, rape, burglary, sexual assault, criminal trespass, theft and a slew of related offenses" stemming from the July 15 slaying of Jasmine Wright, a 27-year-old West Philadelphia woman.
Harris, who police said was a career criminal, is accused of ambushing Wright in her apartment.
    Homicide Captain James Clark said Friday that the former maintenance man broke into Wright's third floor apartment and waited for her for about half an hour. As Wright entered her home, she was talking on her cell phone with her mother, according to Clark. "We know that because the mother heard the struggle and (then) the phone goes dead," Clark said.
    The next day, Wright was found "in the master bedroom on the bed unresponsive ...(she) appeared to have blunt force trauma to her face and head," police said. Wright, who had graduated only weeks earlier with a master's degree from Drexel University, was pronounced dead at the scene.
    "He's a monster," Clark said. "We're very happy to get him off the streets."

    Recently evicted

    According to CNN affiliate WPVI, a week before the killing, Harris was evicted from his apartment -- three doors down from Wright -- and banned from the building. But police said he kept his keys, and was seen using them to enter the building, according to WPVI.
    A message left for the building's owner was not immediately returned Friday.
    Police initially arrested Harris on grounds of criminal trespass. While in custody, investigators took DNA samples. "Homicide detectives received the positive DNA results (Friday), which returned with an undeniable match to Mr. Harris," police said.

    No stranger to violence

    Harris has been arrested more than 30 times, including for the 1982 killing of his father, court documents show. Harris was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to three to seven years.
    "He's been arrested several times for sexual assault, several robberies (and) several burglaries," Clark said.
    A message left for Harry Harris, James Harris' brother, was not returned Friday.

    Philly homicide captain wants death penalty

    James Harris is being held without bail, according to Leeloni Palmiero, a police spokeswoman. It is not clear if he has retained an attorney, but as of Friday afternoon, the Philadelphia public defender's office told CNN it had not been assigned the case.
    Although Harris has not been arraigned on the latest charges, Clark said he would like to see this case put an end to Harris' criminal life.
    "For what he did to her, and his past choices and crime, I hope it's a death penalty case," he said.