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Judge sentences man to 30 years for 2007 murder

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By Jenny Arnold

A Heath Springs man pleaded guilty Monday to voluntary manslaughter in the death of a Kershaw County woman almost two years ago.

Judge Kenneth Goode sentenced Morris Calvin Harris, 36, to 30 years, the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Harris will have to serve at least 85 percent of the sentence.

Harris had also been charged with kidnapping and possession of a knife and firearm during the commission of a violent crime in the case, but those charges were dropped, 6th Circuit Solicitor Doug Barfield said.

Harris was also originally charged with murder in the death of Tammy Whitley, 33.  Her body was found on Hilton Road in Kershaw County on April 20, 2007.

Harris entered an Alford plea on Monday, meaning that he did not admit guilt in the murder, but acknowledges that there is sufficient evidence in the case to convict him.

A jury had already been chosen to hear the case and Barfield and Harris’ attorney, public defender William Frick, had finished pretrial motions before Morris decided to enter a plea.

Harris has been in jail since he was arrested on April 24, 2007.

In a written statement, Harris said he had asked Whitley to give him a ride in her car, and the two rode around in her car, looking for drugs, Barfield said.

When Whitley wouldn’t drop Harris off, he told investigators he shot her in the head.

An autopsy showed a contact wound to Whitley’s right ear, Barfield said.

But according to Harris’ statement, Whitley was able to continue driving after being shot.

She stopped the car and Harris got out, the statement said.

Harris said Whitley tried to run him over, but he said he got back in the car and the pair rode around again in the Heath Springs area, according to Harris’ statement.

Harris said in his statement that Whitley stopped the car again and both of them got out.

When Whitley approached him, he told investigators he cut her throat. Harris said Whitley wrapped the wound with a shirt.

Harris then told Whitley to get in the trunk of her car, and he drove her to Hilton Road, according to Harris’ statement.  

When he opened the trunk, Whitley jumped out in a rage, Harris said in his statement.

Harris said in his statement he kicked Whitley in the chest to knock her to the ground, poked her in the throat with a stick and hit her head with a rock.

Barfield said the autopsy showed that Whitley died of blunt force trauma to the head, compounded by the gunshot wound and cut to her throat.

Whitley was found on Hilton Road.

Her legs and feet had been set on fire, Barfield said. Her car was found burned 2 miles away on the same road.

Harris had also been charged with assault and battery with intent to kill in a separate pending case.

A bullet removed from that victim, who survived, in that case matched the bullet removed from Whitley’s body, Barfield said.

The assault charge was also dropped, Barfield said.

Contact senior reporter Jenny Arnold at jhartley@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1151