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Tuesday, April 10th, 2007

Accused man to stay in jail after confessing to crimes

By Margie Wuebker
A 32-year-old Sidney man, who has confessed to kidnapping, raping and killing an elderly Fort Loramie woman, will remain in the Shelby County Jail without bond following a court appearance Monday morning.
Chris Harris, heavily shackled and wearing orange jail garb, made no comments during the arraignment other than replying "yes" to questions posed by Sidney Municipal Court Judge Donald Luce.
Members of victim Victoria M. Eilerman's family were present in the courtroom for the brief proceeding.
Harris and his attorney, public defender William Zimmerman Jr., waived the right to a preliminary hearing, meaning the case will be bound over to Shelby County Common Pleas Court.
He is expected to appear there next week to waive presentation of the case to a grand jury and to enter guilty pleas to charges of aggravated murder, rape and kidnapping. No date has been set as yet, but Shelby County Prosecutor Ralph Bauer said the purpose of the delay is to allow family members to be present in the courtroom.
Bauer said earlier the decision not to seek the death penalty was made as part of an agreement involving Harris' assistance with the investigation and information leading to the recovery of the 84-year-old woman's body. He believes the decision is the right one because it affords her grieving family closure.
Harris faces life imprisonment without possibility of parole for aggravated murder plus an additional 10 years each on the rape and kidnapping charges.
The crimes occurred when Harris entered the Eilerman home along state Route 705, east of Fort Loramie, around 12:30 p.m. Thursday, intent on committing a burglary and unaware anyone was home. The elderly woman reportedly startled him by screaming.
Harris, who has admitted being under the influence of alcohol, put Eilerman in the trunk of his car; drove to his home, where the rape occurred; and eventually drove to a wooded area 7 to 8 miles east of the Eilerman home, where he killed the woman and left her body. Investigators estimate the time of death as 2:30 to 3 p.m. Thursday. Prior to Eilerman's death, she made three cell phone calls for help.
Harris' car got stuck in the mud in the woods, and he eventually got a ride back to Sidney and returned around 10 a.m. the next day in another car to retrieve the body and dump it along a long lane off River Road, approximately a mile from the Shelby County Sheriff's Office.
The break in the case came Friday morning when an unidentified informant called to report that Harris, who has a criminal history, should be considered a suspect. Another informant led them to the Lochard Road location.
Among the items listed on a search warrant when the Shelby County Sheriff's Office Tactical Unit surrounded Harris' home Friday afternoon was a lady's ring with three emeralds and small pearls believed to be Eilerman's.
Shelby County Coroner Dr. Fred Haussman said Monday that preliminary results of an autopsy performed at the Montgomery County Coroner's Office in Dayton indicated death was due to head and brain injuries. Final autopsy reports are expected in six to eight weeks.
Harris has a long history of run-ins with law enforcement beginning during his youth and continuing to adulthood, according to Sidney Police Chief Steve Wearly. He served six years in prison on a robbery charge in a 1996 case after being convicted of knocking a woman down and snatching her purse in a downtown alley.
He is currently involved in a pending common pleas court case stemming from a Nov. 14 burglary. A neighbor woman heard a noise in her home as she unlocked the door and allegedly saw Harris leave via a sliding glass door, according to Wearly. The suspect apparently gained entry by removing a window air conditioner.
The 46-year-old woman reportedly ran to the corner of the house and saw Harris enter the Maywood Place home he shared with a girlfriend and her two children, Wearly added.
Harris was free on bond in that case when he randomly selected the Fort Loramie home to burglarize.
Funeral services for Eilerman will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Michael Catholic Church in Fort Loramie.
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