ANDERSON — Jennifer Harris was wearing her orange and white striped jail uniform and her hair was pulled into a side ponytail when she testified about her son’s death on Tuesday.
She told jurors the only injuries her son had the night before he was taken lifeless to a local hospital on Feb. 23, 2018, was a fading bruise and scratch on his forehead.
Harris, 28, is a co-defendant in the trial against Dylan Tate, her ex-boyfriend, who is accused of molesting and murdering Harris’ 18-month-old son, Harlan Haines.
Tate, 28, is on trial for murder, charged with Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death, Level 1 felony child molesting and Level 6 felony operating a vehicle while intoxicated.
Harris is charged with Level 1 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in death. She is not being tried at the same time as Tate and has been granted "use immunity" for her testimony. That means the testimony cannot be used against her in a criminal proceeding unless she volunteered evidence, was not responsive to a question by the attorneys, or if she committed perjury.
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Steve Koester says Tate brutally beat, tortured and molested Harlan before his death and tried to cover the murder and the injuries inflicted on Harlan by crashing his car into a pole. Harlan died two days later.
Tate's attorney, Cody Cogswell, says Tate woke up and found Harlan struggling to breathe around 4 a.m. Without waking Harris, Tate grabbed the child and tried to rush him to the hospital, but crashed his car and had to flag down a passing car to give them a ride to the hospital.
On Friday and Monday, doctors and nurses testified that the child had multiple bite marks and lacerations, injuries consistent with cigarette burns and covered from head to toe in bruises that were in various stages of healing. They also removed a brown paper towel from the back of Harlan’s mouth that was obstructing his airway.
On Tuesday, Harris testified that she started dating Tate in April 2017 and moved in with him about a month later. The couple was living with Tate’s 8-year-old son from a previous relationship and Harlan in the 1800 block of Poplar Street at the time of Harlan’s death.
She said Tate was laid off from construction work and she was receiving disability in February 2018. Harris said Tate drank “almost every day after he was laid off.”
The day before Harlan was rushed to the hospital, Harris said, Tate bought a bottle of whiskey and she saw him drink two shots before the couple went to bed. She said they had put both boys to bed and she smoked marijuana before they watched television together in their bedroom around 10 p.m. and then went to sleep around midnight.
Harris said she woke up around 5 a.m. when an alarm on Tate’s phone went off. Tate and Harlan were missing. She said the living room was ransacked and when she looked out the front door, Tate’s car was gone.
She threw on a sweatshirt and walked back outside looking for Tate when officers arrived to tell her he had been in a car accident with Harlan.
She said officers told her they needed to talk to her at the police station about the injuries they discovered on Harlan before she could go to the hospital.
Harris said she let the officers into the house and they waited in the living room while she got dressed and found someone to care for Tate’s son, who was asleep upstairs. The playpen where Harlan slept was in the living room.
She later testified that she found and removed a number of bloody items and other evidence from the playpen and a nearby couch where the officers had been waiting.
Harris said after she was questioned about Harlan’s “non-accidental injuries” officers took her to Community Hospital where she met her friend, Bethany Greenlee.
She said she was told she could ride in the ambulance with Harlan to Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, but she wanted to go back to the house so she could get her wallet and a phone charger. Harris also said she retrieved several thousand dollars the couple had planned to use to buy a car.
Greenlee took Harris back to the house around 8 a.m. and the women collected the clothing Harlan was wearing the night before, a bloody towel, bloody diaper, bloody white paper towel and a bloody wipe along with a stained blanket and put the items in a box, which they kept in the trunk of Greenlee’s car for two days.
Harris said she never saw anyone hit Harlan the night before he was taken to the hospital.
She also testified that she was the one who brought the box of evidence to the police department, but Greenlee said she was the one who returned the box while Harris was still in Indianapolis.
Ashley Luther, a forensic biologist for the Indiana State Police, testified that she did not find Harris' DNA on any of the items collected by the two women. The only item that indicated “limited support” of Tate’s DNA was found on a diaper tab that the women said was found outside the home near a trash can.
Luther also testified that Tate’s DNA was not found in an evidence collection kit taken from Harlan at the hospital. Oral, anal and external scrotum swabs were tested.
Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Grey Chandler filed information for a life without parole sentence if Tate is convicted of murder.
Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday in Madison Circuit Court 1, before Judge Angela Warner Sims. The trial is open to the public.
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