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SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 11, 2007
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Man tossed in fire, ‘left to die,’ says his relative

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com · 340-2355

TRINITY — Investigators said they are still trying to determine how a beating victim suffered severe burns in addition to bruises, but a family member said the victim claims he was purposely thrown into a fire.

Keith Harris, found lying outside a residence on Holt Road early Jan. 23, had been assaulted and suffered head trauma and bruises on his body, said Detective Pete Taylor of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department.

The 48-year-old Trinity man also had severe burns that may have come from a burn pile nearby.

“Two guys beat Keith, brutally beat him, and threw him in the fire and left him for dead,” said Diane Harris, a relative.

She said she bases those allegations on what Keith Harris, who is hospitalized at University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital, told her last week.

“He’ll be (in the hospital) for a while, because he’s burnt pretty bad. His left leg is very bad, and he has a burnt place on his stomach. I was told by (emergency personnel) that his sock and shoe melted onto his skin.

“He also had 42 stitches in his head where they had to go in there and get a blood clot out and get all that blood off his brain. He’s really lucky to be alive.”

Taylor said investigators have not been able to get a full statement from the victim. But Diane Harris said he told family members what befell him outside the Holt Road residence, where the victim and his alleged assailants had been partying.

“They had a bonfire going on, and they got angry about something,” Diane Harris said. “. . . They beat him. It was two on one. I don’t know what they beat Keith with, but it was more than a fist, because of the stitches they had to put in his head. He thinks it was a ball bat.”

She added, “You know when a fire gets going real good and the wood gets red? He said they took a piece of that wood and stuck it to his stomach and back after they beat him.”

Apparently, she said, another man who was at the residence dragged Keith Harris away from the fire.

Diane Harris said allegations by police that Keith Harris tried to lie about his name were the result of a misunderstanding.

“He gave his name, Harris, but they couldn’t understand it. He was just addled. He didn’t give them a false name,” she said.

Authorities originally thought an intoxicated Harris fell into the fire by accident. When it became apparent there was more to the story, Trinity police asked the Sheriff’s Department to investigate.

“We didn’t appreciate what Sheriff Bartlett said about his background,” Diane Harris said, referring to statements Sheriff Greg Bartlett made to a reporter about an outstanding arrest warrant on felony DUI and the possibility that alcohol was involved in the assault.

“We were worried about
Keith’s life,” she said, “and he was more worried about his DUIs. Everybody should have to pay for their wrongdoings, and Keith will have to pay for his. But he’s the victim in this case.”

She said Keith Harris knows “who did it, and the family knows who did it. And if we have anything to do with it, they won’t get away with it, either.”

Taylor said he is investigating “persons of interest,” but he did not release names. Keith Harris spoke with investigators but needs more time to recover before making a full statement, he said. Investigators searched the residence and surrounding area, but did not recover any weapons or other evidence, Taylor said.

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