Investigator: Inmate said phones smuggled to Vegas Strip carnage defendant were for escape

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LAS VEGAS — An investigator told a judge Wednesday that a self-described pimp already serving prison time for rape and robbery bribed a guard to get cellphones behind bars as part of a plot to escape before his death penalty trial in a fatal Las Vegas Strip shooting and fiery crash.

In testimony before a Las Vegas judge hearing evidence against a co-defendant in the bribery case, Nevada Department of Corrections Supervisory Investigator David Molnar mentioned but didn't detail an escape plan involving Ammar Asim Faruq Harris.

Earlier, Harris stood in shackles Wednesday before Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Deborah Lippis, where Harris and another inmate, Derrick McKnight, each said he intends to plead guilty to one felony charge of bribing a public officer in the contraband smuggling case.

Their plea deals will see other charges dropped, but could add five years to each man's prison sentence.

Harris, 28, is serving 16 years to life for his conviction last year in a June 2010 sex attack and robbery of an 18-year-old woman.

McKnight, 35, is serving life without parole for the fatal December 2006 shooting of former professional basketball player-turned-real estate broker Kenneth Hardwick during a botched robbery in Henderson.

Molnar's testimony came during a preliminary hearing for another co-defendant, Amy Colon, who was bound over by Lippis for trial in state court on bribery, conspiracy and furnishing a portable telecommunication device to a state prisoner charges. Colon's arraignment is Oct. 15 in Clark County District Court. She remains free on $10,000 bond.

Molnar said McKnight told him two phones found in Harris' solo cell in May were part of a bid to break out of High Desert State Prison in Indian Springs, outside Las Vegas.

"He told me they were for an escape," Molnar testified, "for Ammar Harris to escape."

Deputy Nevada Attorney General Karen Whelan didn't ask Molnar to describe the plot, and Molnar declined additional comment outside court.

Harris' lawyer, Robert Langford, denied his client was ever part of any escape plan.

The defense attorney said no escape charges were filed — just as no charges were filed after police and prosecutors claimed Harris plotted in 2013 to escape during his transfer in custody to Las Vegas from Los Angeles, where he was arrested a week after the Las Vegas Strip carnage.

"If these cellphones were for an escape, they would have charged him with attempt to escape," Langford said of the new allegations.

David Stanton, the prosecutor in the Strip shooting and crash case, said Wednesday that police have telephone recordings of Harris planning a 2013 escape in California. But Stanton said jurisdiction was a question, and authorities decided not to file charges because Harris already faced three capital murder charges in Nevada.

Stanton noted that after the prison cellphones were discovered, Harris was transferred to a state maximum security prison in Ely. The prosecutor said that showed that state corrections officials consider Harris high-risk.

"Part of that is due to evidence that he planned a breakout from custody while he was being transported," Stanton said.

Langford complained that the transfer from Indian Springs, about 45 miles from Las Vegas, to Ely, about 250 miles away, makes it difficult for him and co-counsel Thomas Ericsson to meet with Harris.

"It's a 12-hour round trip to see him for an hour and a half," Langford said.

Harris is accused of shooting early Feb. 21, 2013, into a moving Maserati sports car on Las Vegas Boulevard, fatally wounding the driver as the car sped through an intersection and slammed into a taxi that burst into flames, killing the cab driver and a tourist from Washington state. Five other people were injured.

Clark County District Court Judge Kathleen Delaney on Wednesday set that trial in that case for July 6.

The former state corrections officer, Derland Blake, 30, of North Las Vegas, pleaded guilty last week to felony bribery, and prosecutors dropped seven other charges against him.

Blake could face up to five years in prison at sentencing Jan. 28.

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