Murder on a Liquor High

A 17-year-old is dead. his alleged killer is only 15, troubled, and facing life in prison

With the advent of the Crips and Bloods in New York City, Harris became embroiled in a violent struggle with a Crips set that was trying to force him to pledge allegiance to the gang. Harris and his attorney did not identify the posse that insists on random slashings and sexual assaults as initiation rites.

"He said that they have been after him and a friend for two or three years," Roper Simpson says. "My client said he and his friend told the Crips they don't want to belong to the Bloods or the Crips, they just wanna be kids. But the gang members told them, 'You're either with us or you're against us.' "

In late September, about six members of a Flatbush Crips set allegedly fired upon Harris and his friend. The friend, whom Roper Simpson refused to identify, was hit and is paralyzed. Then on Thanksgiving night, the same thugs chased Harris home in a hail of bullets. Despite the attempts on his life, Harris ignored his grandmother's pleas to stay off the streets.

around 11:45 on the night of December 5, Larry Bennett, on his way to a Christmas party in Flatbush, ran into James Harris and a group of about five youths who had just left a cinema. "He said he had known them for some time and hung out with them," says Bennett's attorney, Carl Thomas.

Unbeknownst to Bennett, Harris and his friends had been involved in an altercation earlier that evening with another group of teenagers. As Harris's group accompanied Bennett to the party, they saw three youths whom Harris and his friends mistakenly believed were the same young men they'd rumbled with.

"As they were crossing the street to confront these guys," according to Thomas, "they realized they were not the same guys they had the fight with earlier that night but were the same guys they had had a fight with on a prior occasion." Bennett told Thomas that someone in Harris's group shouted, "Let's rob them!"

"He said when he heard that, he went back to the side of the street where he had met Harris and his friends," Thomas says. As Harris and his friends rolled on the youths, Bennett watched the confrontation shift to the corner of Flatbush and Snyder.

"All of a sudden he saw Harris take out a gun and shoot one of the guys," Thomas says. "He said he heard about three or four shots then saw the guy drop to the ground."

Police said Augustine, a senior at New Utrecht High School who intended to enroll at the State University of New York at Stonybrook this year, was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he died. The medical examiner's office said Augustine died from multiple gunshot wounds.

Harris told his lawyer an entirely different story. He said that as he was leaving a Flatbush nightclub with three friends, members of the Crips gang, their faces disguised with blue bandanas, the gang's signature color, began to shoot at him.

"James Harris said one of the kids got shot and he does not know about anyone in his group firing any shots," Roper Simpson told the Voice. "He said if anyone in his group had a gun he didn't see it because he was running away."

As to how Harris wound up in the clutches of the law that fateful morning, Roper Simpson offers that after Harris saw Larry Bennett in the custody of the police, he went over to the cops and asked them what precinct they were taking Bennett to because he wanted to notify Bennett's mother. She said the cops searched Harris and found marijuana on him and took him to the 70th Precinct station house.

james harris has since sobered up from his Alizé high. Apart from denying that he "intentionally caused the death" of Dimitri Augustine, the troubled life of this 15-year-old remains bottled up inside. He won't talk about his parents. He won't talk to the psychiatrists at the Crossroads Juvenile Center, whom he's accused of trying to "meddle in his business." But it doesn't seem like James Harris can hold out much longer, according to his attorney, who visited him last week. Harris has begun to question the kind of justice that allows Larry Bennett to remain free on bail while he's locked up. Why did cops believe Bennett's story and not his? Will he ever go home again?

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