Friday, October 15, 1999
Officer Paul Harrington - Detroit PD - formerly
Fathers Who Kill
Mentally Ill or Malingering?
A program on Court TV's The System featured the case of a man who killed his entire family twice. War hero, Vietnam veteran, and Detroit cop, Paul Harrington shot and killed his wife and two daughters, 6 and 9, in 1975. Under questioning, he admitted that he'd been haunted by a raid in Vietnam, where he'd killed a mother and her four children. The incident had disturbed him for years. His sister said that after he came home from that war, he was never the same. Working as a cop had kept the memory fresh. He had trouble keeping himself balanced and stable, so he turned to alcohol.
He'd been to a psychiatrist to discuss his fear that he might one day harm his family or himself. (Some psychiatrists might say this was a way to stage a premeditated murder, but others cite it as proof of seeking help.) The psychiatrist Harrington saw urged him to stay with his family over the holidays, but that turned out to have been a bad idea. He seemed to just snap and within moments, his entire family was dead.
Harrington was medicated and put on a watch in a psychiatric institution for 17 months before he went to trial. All the experts agreed that he had been insane at the time of the crime. He was committed to the state psychiatric hospital. He stayed there for less than two months and was then released --assessed as not being a danger to himself or others. That was the law. Thus, a year and a half after killing three people, Harrington was a free man. No one monitored him. He sued the psychiatrist for not hospitalizing him when he needed it, and reached a settlement. Thus, he not only killed his family but also appeared to profit from it.
Harrington got married again in 1982 and had two sons. By the 1990s, he had a substance abuse problem, submitted again to psychiatric care for anxiety and depression, and in 1999 repeated his atrocity. He'd had hallucinations, he said, of being told to go kill people. In debt, with no car, no job and no money to buy his psychiatric drugs, he swung into a dangerous state and killed his wife and one of his sons.
Again, he went on trial. Since he had borrowed his neighbor's gun the night before—which he used—the prosecution said it was clearly premeditated. Several psychiatrists testified once again that he had been insane—it was a flashback to the first incident. But Dr. Charles Clark for the prosecution tested Harrington and said he was malingering a mental illness. Clark did not accept the idea that Harrington was suffering from Vietnam flashbacks. Apparently, his opinion carried the most weight.
This time Harrington was found guilty and received a life sentence.
Even so, the families of the victims claim that the mental health system had failed them all. Had he been given the help he needed the first time, they believe, the string of tragedies could have been avoided.
Harrington's mental problems were well-documented, but sometimes a clever psychopath can convince a lot of people that he's mentally ill. Both men in the following two cases told countless lies, trying to make their crimes appear to be the result of forces beyond their control.
UPDATE - 11/1/00 - A former police officer who was charged with killing his wife and children in 1975 has been convicted of murdering his second wife and 3-year-old son. Paul Harrington, who was found innocent by reason of insanity 25 years ago and served two months in a psychiatric hospital, now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. "We're glad this man will not hurt anyone else again," Chester Trail, a relative of Harrington's second wife, told the Detroit Free Press in Wednesday's editions.
Harrington killed his wife Wanda Harrington, 47, in October 1999, then shot their son, Brian, 3. Harrington, 53, called 911 and waited on his porch for officers. Sentencing was scheduled for Dec. 1.
Harrington's attorneys mounted an insanity defense, arguing that he had been diagnosed with major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. In 1975, Harrington - recently separated from his 28-year-old wife, Becky - killed her and their two daughters, Pamela, 9, and Cassandra, 4, with his service revolver.
Vietnam veteran commits similar family slayings 24 years later
The former police officer's second murderous act came after a
maximum two-month sentence of psychiatric care
The Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) -- Authorities thought then-police officer Paul Harrington could lead a normal life after spending two months in a psychiatric facility for fatally shooting his wife and two children.
But 24 years later, Harrington ran out of medication, and his second wife and their 3-year-old son were shot dead too.
"The same thing happened in 1975," he said in a statement to police. "They should have put me away then."
On Oct. 15, Harrington's wife of 17 years, Wanda, and their 3-year-old son Brian lay dead on a couch in their Detroit duplex. Wanda had been shot in the temple while she slept. Brian had been shot three times in the head, police said.
Harrington, 53, called 911 and waited on his porch for officers. He faces two counts of first-degree murder and two felony firearm counts and is being held without bond.
The previous shooting was similar.
It was Dec. 19, 1975, when Harrington's 28-year-old wife Becky and their two daughters, Pamela, 9, and Cassandra, 4, were killed with Harrington's service revolver. The couple had recently separated.
Within minutes, Harrington turned himself in and took police to the murder scene.
Donald Cutler, Harrington's defense attorney in the original case, said he quickly realized his client was mentally disturbed.
"One evening at mealtime ... a phone rang, and he apparently had a flashback of what he called 'incoming mail,' and he thought he was under attack from the Vietcong," Cutler said he learned. "He took his service revolver he had with him and started shooting."
Recorder's Court Judge Susan Borman found Harrington innocent by reason of insanity in 1977 and sent him to a state hospital. Doctors released him after two months -- the maximum allowed by law.
Harrington, a Vietnam veteran and a Detroit police officer since 1972, was fired when he was charged with the triple homicide. But his life improved; he remarried and had two more children.
"He went on with his life, tried to work," said W. Frederick Moore, the Detroit attorney defending Harrington against the latest charges. "Along the way, he was married, he tried to deal with the situation."
But Harrington started having financial trouble. He was fired in April from his job at Hercules Drawn Steel in Livonia, where he worked for six years.
"The statement he gave police details a variety of setbacks, in my point of view, that impacted his ability to reasonably rationalize issues -- being fired, not having any money, worried about his family," Moore said. "It was taking a toll, he was going to the doctor, he tried to hang in there."
Detroit police Detective Sgt. Felix Kirk testified at a preliminary hearing that Harrington had run out of medications for his severe depression.
The drugs "keep me from hearing voices," Harrington told police.
"Had he been on his medication and had he had a (mental health) facility to utilize, probably it would have never happened again," Cutler said.
Tragic story has more fatalities
After '75 deaths, man again accused of murder
January 25, 2000
BY SHERYL JAMES
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Shortly after he allegedly killed his wife and 3-year-old son last October, Paul Harrington sat face-to-face with Detroit homicide detective Sgt. Felix Kirk, and told him the story -- the whole story.
Wanda and Brian Harrington were killed Oct. 15 at their Detroit duplex.
"The same thing happened in 1975," Harrington said. "They should have put me away then."
Harrington had committed an almost identical crime in 1975. He killed his first wife and two daughters, then called 911 to confess. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1977 and was released after two months in a psychiatric institution.
Harrington was ordered Monday to stand trial on two counts of first-degree murder and two felony firearms counts in the shooting deaths of his second wife, Wanda, and their son Brian in their Detroit duplex. His statement to Kirk was read aloud Monday at a preliminary hearing in 36th District Court.
Harrington's comments to Kirk renewed questions about the 1977 case and why Harrington was not sent to prison then.
Donald Cutler, a Southfield attorney, was Harrington's defense attorney in 1977. Cutler said Monday that two psychiatrists who testified at a hearing after the first killings agreed after examining Harrington that he was not criminally responsible. The law at the time, Cutler said, required then-Recorder's Court Judge Susan Borman to find Harrington not guilty by reason of insanity.
In court Monday, Kirk testified that Harrington told him he had recently run out of medications that eased his severe depression.
"I take Desyrel and Loxapine. It keeps me from hearing voices and helps me sleep. I've been out of the Loxapine for a week," Kirk said Harrington told him.
Harrington had been fired in April from Hercules Drawn Steel in Livonia after six years of employment. Kirk said Harrington told him: "I was told I got fired because everyone was scared to work with me. They said I had problems." Harrington, 53, a former Detroit Police Department detective and Vietnam veteran, said he had not slept the four nights before the shootings. He told Kirk he decided to kill his wife and son the night of Oct. 14, walked across the street and borrowed a gun from a man named "D."
"D" did not ask why Harrington wanted the gun, and Harrington did not offer the reason. Police have been unable to locate "D."
Harrington did not shoot his family that night, however. The following morning, he told Kirk, "everything seemed all right, but then in my head I just couldn't handle any more." He and his wife had not argued, he said. "It's just everything was going around inside my head. The welfare cut my check, I've been thinking about how I was going to take care of my family, I'm behind in the rent, and I didn't want to see them outdoors."
After his older son, Paul Jr., left for school about 9 a.m. Oct. 15, Harrington walked back into his rented duplex at 1444 W. Grand Blvd. According to Kirk, Harrington said his wife Wanda, 45, was asleep on the couch when he shot her in the left temple. He then shot his son, Brian, who was playing in the dining room, and carried him to the couch. Brian was shot three times in the head.
Harrington then called 911. He told police the gun would be on the dining room table, and he would be on the porch. Police found both, along with Wanda and Brian on opposite ends of the couch, their feet touching.
Defense attorney W. Frederick Moore of Detroit said Monday that the issue in the case "is not about what Harrington did, but about his frame of mind." Both Moore and Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Ralph Elizondo expect Harrington's case to center on psychiatric testimony.
Little is known about Harrington. He served in Vietnam and joined the Detroit Police force in 1972. He was undergoing psychiatric treatment in 1975 when he killed his first wife, Becky, 28, and daughters Pamela, 9, and Cassandra, 4, with his police service revolver. The couple had recently separated.
In court Monday, Harrington said little, rubbing his eyes as Elizondo read descriptions of his wife's and son's autopsies.
Harrington, who is being held without bond in the Wayne County Jail, has only one relative in Michigan, a cousin. No family members appeared in court on his behalf. Several members of his wife's family attended the hearing but declined to be interviewed.
Slayings called act of kindness
Ex-cop talks about killing family
October 19, 1999
BY SUZETTE HACKNEY
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
Paul Harrington had recently lost his job, was behind in rent and was starting to feel the financial pressure of supporting a wife and two children with no income.
So Harrington, a former Detroit policeman, thought it better to kill his wife and 3-year-old son than to see them homeless.
That, Detroit homicide detectives say, is what Harrington told them in a confession.
He told them he borrowed a gun from a friend Thursday, the night before the shooting, and killed Wanda Harrington and 3-year-old Brian early Friday morning. Afterward, he called 911.
When uniformed officers arrived at the home on West Grand Boulevard, Harrington, 53, told them he had killed his family.
"He said he couldn't support them so he had to kill them," said Sgt. Felix Kirk of the Detroit Police Department homicide unit. "He was under pressure trying to take care of his family. He said he didn't want to see them in the street."
Detectives said Harrington told them his last job was at a steel company in Livonia. Harrington was arraigned Saturday in 36th District Court on two counts of first-degree murder. He is being held without bond in the Wayne County Jail.
In 1975, Harrington faced three murder charges -- for the deaths of his wife and their two children in December. Harrington shot Becky, 28, and their daughters, Pamela, 9, and Cassandra, 4. He was fired from the police force after being charged with the triple homicide. In 1977, Recorder's Court Judge Susan Borman found Harrington not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him committed for psychiatric treatment. Borman could not be reached for comment Monday.
Two months after his treatment began, Harrington was released from the program.
Harrington, a Vietnam veteran with a history of psychological problems, told homicide detectives this week he was under the care of a therapist and had been without some medication for about a week.
A Wayne County assistant prosecutor says last week's slayings were cold-blooded, calling for first-degree-murder charges. "Based on the information that was provided to me by the police department, I felt that was an appropriate charge," said Ralph Elizondo.