Judge Phil Nelson Wednesday dismissed one of the charges against Nicole Harris, on trial in Clatsop County Circuit Court along with Theresa Beverage.
Both women were charged with murder by abuse, abuse of a corpse, criminal mistreatment and hindering prosecution for the February 2004 death of Sharon Lee Wilks, whose body was found in a ravine behind the Niagara Avenue apartment she shared with Beverage and Harris. Beverage is also charged with identity theft.
But Nelson accepted a motion from defense attorney Glenn Faber seeking dismissal of the abuse-of-a-corpse charge against his client, Harris. Faber said there was no evidence that Harris had any role in removing Wilks' body from the apartment and pushing it, strapped into an electric wheelchair, over the embankment, where it was found Feb. 28.
Nelson ruled that there was insufficient evidence to find Harris guilty of that charge. He noted that Harris was charged with first-degree abuse of a corpse, which involves specific actions by the accused.
Harris remains charged with murder by abuse. She and Beverage face a minimum of 25 years in prison if convicted.
The two are accused of neglecting Wilks to the point she was emaciated and covered with advanced bed sores.
On Tuesday and Wednesday the 12-person jury heard a tape of interviews that police conducted with Harris and Beverage, both alone and together, following the discovery of the body.
The pair let police into their apartment Feb. 28 after ignoring knocks on the door for several hours. In a lengthy interview with Astoria Police Detective Eric Halverson, Beverage first claimed that Wilks had left the apartment around Feb. 13 to go visit a friend and hadn't returned, and when asked if Wilks had died in the house, denied it. Only later in the interview did she finally say that she had found Wilks dead in her bedroom Feb. 13.
"I came out of her room and told (Harris) 'she's dead' and she said 'oh my God, what are we going to do?'" Beverage says on the tape. "And I said 'I don't know, I don't know.' And then she said 'well, the cops can't come here' and I go, 'I know the cops can't come here, so what are we going to do?'"
The two were nervous about calling the police, Beverage said, because of two outstanding warrants against her.
Harris told the police she never saw Wilks' body, and went down to the basement while Beverage put Wilks into her wheelchair and took her out of the apartment. She was unaware where Beverage took the body, she said.
"I didn't want her to get into trouble. I don't want to get into trouble. I mean, we didn't do anything wrong, we just didn't know what to do," Harris says on the tape.
Beverage asked the police what crime had been committed, saying she "didn't think it mattered" that she dumped Wilks' body into the ravine.
"I didn't know I was committing a crime," she said. "I didn't know I was doing anything wrong. I mean, I'm serious. I really didn't."
Harris said that on one occasion she smoked crack cocaine with Wilks. She also claimed that Wilks stopped eating about two or three weeks before her death.
"I think she died because it was her time to go," she told the police.
The jury also heard from Wilks' mother, Wilma Hayne, who said her daughter paid her and her husband regular visits to their home on Klaskanine Avenue and made frequent phone calls to them until mid-January, when they lost contact with her.
Hayne was in charge of handling Wilks' Social Security disability payments, she said. Four or five days after Wilks went to live with Beverage and Harris in late December 2003, a woman calling herself Cindy Harkless came to her door to collect $350 to cover Wilks' share of the rent and utilities. The woman, whom Hayne identified in a photograph as being Beverage, collected rent checks once a month, and came by each week to pick up checks for $50 for spending money for Wilks.
Hayne said she called the apartment asking for Wilks but was always told she was asleep or had just gone outside. When she asked Beverage why her daughter wouldn't return her calls, she was told "she's mad at you and doesn't want you to call," she said.
On Feb. 27, two weeks after Wilks' death, Beverage came by and picked up another check for the March rent, Hayne said.
Hayne said her daughter was also a "good eater" and, though she had a drug problem that began when she was in her 30s, was never known to abuse her prescription medications.