Jury selection to begin today in Houston County murder trial

WARNER ROBINS — Jury selection is expected today in the trial of a Warner Robins man accused of murder in the 2007 stabbing death of another man outside Buffalo’s Cafe at 3051 Watson Blvd.

Mario Cavalli Harris, 32, was indicted by a Houston County grand jury on charges of malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault and possession of a knife during the commission of crime.

Felony murder is when someone dies in the commission of another felony, which in this case is the alleged aggravated assault. Malice murder includes the intent of murder as opposed to an act of passion, or emotion, or of self defense.

Harris is accused of stabbing Stephen Thad Register, 32, of Warner Robins, once just below the chest about 10:44 p.m. Dec. 27, 2007, outside of Buffalo’s, police said. Register died about six hours later at Houston Medical Center.

The men apparently started arguing outside in the parking lot and the argument escalated when Harris allegedly pulled out a knife and stabbed Register, according to police.

Franklin J. Hogue, a Macon criminal defense attorney representing Harris, indicated that there was more to the story than two men arguing in the parking lot.

Hogue said that Harris stabbed Register in self-defense.

Hogue said there were two other men with Register waiting in the parking lot for a woman Harris was speaking with as both were leaving when the confrontation occurred.

“Our defense was he (Harris) thought he was going to receive serious bodily injury or die at their hands in the parking lot,” Hogue said.

Hogue declined to elaborate further on what transpired, saying he was only comfortable in discussing what was already public record through pretrial motion hearings.

The woman was Harris’ half-sister, Brittany Holder, and the two men with Register were Andrew Holiday and Bobby Releford, Hogue said. Holder, of Warner Robins, and Holiday and Releford, both of Kathleen, are witnesses for the prosecution, said Jason Ashford, Houston County chief assistant district attorney. Ashford is prosecuting the case with assistant district attorney Duncan Munn. Ashford declined to comment on the facts of the case. But Ashford noted that the pre-trial motion to dismiss the case on the premise of self-defense was denied by Houston County Superior Court Judge Katherine K. Lumsden on June 30, 2008.

The judge not only heard the testimony of Holiday and Releford but also reviewed the entire police investigative file, Ashford said.

Ultimately, it will be up to jurors to determine whether Harris acted in self-defense or is guilty as charged of murder, the prosecutor said.

“That’s the reason we have trials to have a jury sort ... things out,” Ashford said.

Harris, a Northside High School graduate, was attending a technical college to become an aircraft sheet metal worker before he was charged with murder in the stabbing death, Hogue said.

Judge Lumsden is expected to preside over the estimated four-day trial.

To contact writer Becky Purser, call 256-9559.