Donna Thomas Harris has killed before

Plea bargain set her free in 2010
Apr. 24, 2014 @ 10:11 AM

A woman accused of stabbing her husband now is charged with murder -- for the second time in 11 years.

Donna Thomas Harris, 54, of 302 Kristen Lane, Hudson, was arrested after her husband, William Daniel Harris, 58, was stabbed in the chest about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday. He told a neighbor that his wife stabbed him. William Harris later died of his injuries. Donna Harris' first hearing is scheduled for today in Caldwell District Court.

Donna Harris had served six years in prison, from August 2004 to June 2010, for killing her live-in boyfriend in Lenoir under similar circumstances. She originally was charged with first-degree murder in that killing, which would have carried a life sentence, but she agreed Aug. 2, 2004, to plead guilty to the reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a maximum of eight years and nine months in prison.

In 2003, as now, neighbors described a couple whose arguments constantly escalated, required law enforcement to intervene and sometimes resulted in injuries and arrests.

Early in the morning on Feb. 12, 2003, Harris was charged with first-degree murder after her boyfriend, Gary Wayne Hollar, 49, died from a gunshot wound in the chest from a .22-caliber rifle at Hollar's house on Old Morganton Road in Lenoir.

Harris told the first officers to arrive that a man had forced his way into the house, cut her and then shot Hollar, records show, but when interviewed later that morning by a police sergeant she admitted she and Hollar had been arguing and struggled over the rifle, which discharged twice. Detectives searching the house found two spent .22-caliber shell casings and a loaded rifle that was wrapped in a scarf and stuffed inside a pillowcase.

Police said at the time that they had been called to that address 51 times from January 2000 to February 2003. A neighbor told the News-Topic on Feb. 12, 2003, that the house was the site of constant turmoil. "There was a lot of noise of there, shouting and door-slamming," he said.

Records showed that both Hollar and Harris had been arrested numerous times -- sometimes he was charged with assault against her, and sometimes she was charged with assault against him. One of those charges against Hollar was a major factor in offering Harris a plea deal in 2003, District Attorney Jay Gaither said Wednesday, along with her attorneys' argument that Hollar was shot in self-defense.

"Donna Harris was able to make a self-defense case in the shooting," Gaither said. "The state conncluded that while Donna may have acted in self-defense, she used excessive force. Therefore, this imperfect self-defense led to the voluntary manslaughter plea."

While in jail after the 2003 arrest, Harris wrote letters to Superior Court Judge Beverly Beal, pleading for a bond reduction that would allow her release from jail, and said she was turning her life around. "I've got about 30 to 40 women involved in Turning Point Bible Study or rather the Lord has through me," she wrote in one letter. "If I have my dream come true, I shall have a retreat that deals with alcohol-drug dependency and abuse with a solid Christian foundation."

But if there was any effect from those treatment sessions, it had worn off long before the Harrises moved into Forest Village Apartments in Hudson last July, said apartment manager Robert Fueston. Fueston moved from California two years ago. The sounds of fighting coming from their apartment were non-stop, he said.

"They were two peas in a pod," Fueston said. "She was always the aggressor. How many times have I had to call the cops on them? I don't have enough fingers and toes."

Brittany Stansberry, who lives in the apartment above where the Harrises lived, said the fighting often would wake up her 2-year-old son.

“I’ve had to call the landlord in the middle of the night, and called the cops twice on them,” Stansberry said. “She was crazy. I could hear her talking to herself, in two different voices, like she was having a conversation with someone.”

Other neighbors said they knew little about the Harrises, who they said pretty much kept to themselves except for the shouts of their fighting.

Fueston said neither of the Harrises had a job.

“They were the worst tenants we’ve ever had since I’ve been here,” Fueston said.

Fueston said he was at another apartment unit Tuesday afternoon when he heard the commotion. He tried to stop the heavy bleeding coming from Danny Harris’ deep wound as they waited for an ambulance.

“He said he couldn’t see anything, so I said, ‘Just calm down,’” Fueston said. “When the ambulance got here, he just fell back limp, with a blank stare.”

When told that Donna Harris was now charged with murder, Fueston said, “Judging from their past, it doesn’t really surprise me.”