May 1, 2014

Woman testifies she saw defendant shoot man rescuing a child

Thomas Harper, trapped in his wrecked SUV, shot Clarence Robinson, who had Harper’s daughter in his arms, a witness testifies Thursday.

The driver of a wrecked Tahoe was trapped in his seat, and the SUV was leaking fluid and smoking.

In the back seat, two small children were crying, Ranisha Sowell testified Thursday at a murder trial.

Sowell said she was afraid the vehicle would burst into flames or explode. Twice Sowell asked the driver if he wanted her to get his children out.

Twice, the driver said “real recognize real,” Sowell said. She didn’t know what that meant.

“He didn’t seem hostile or like he was directing any hostility at me,” Sowell said of the driver, Thomas Lester Harper. “He seemed frustrated.” But suddenly he was irritated and told her with a vulgar word to get away from the car, Sowell said.

Another man ran up to the driver’s window and unbuckled Harper’s daughter from her seat and pulled her through the window, Sowell said.

The driver pulled a gun and shot him, Sowell said.

“I just backed up,” Sowell said. “When the young man dropped to the ground, the baby dropped to the ground also.

“It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Harper, 30, is on trial this week on a murder charge in the shooting death of Clarence Robinson, 18, the man rescuing Harper’s daughter when he was shot on Dec. 14, 2011.

Harper had already caused wrecks on North Collins Street and Brown Boulevard, according to Tarrant County prosecutors Amy Collum and Jack Strickland.

Sowell and her mother were on Brown Boulevard when they saw a pickup and the Tahoe collide. Sowell, now 26, testified that she ran to the pickup and saw the driver slumped in the seat not breathing.

Then she and her mother went to the Tahoe and within seconds Robinson was shot. Sowell said that she did not see Harper threaten or point the gun at anyone else and that he did not get in a confrontation with the police.

But he was “behaving strangely,” Arlington police Sgt. Richard Grimmett testified.

According to a toxicologist’s testimony earlier Thursday, Harper was intoxicated from marijuana, not alcohol, during the fatal wreck and shooting.

Tetrahydrocannibol or THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is absorbed into the bloodstream and reaches its peak concentration in about 15 minutes, said Robert Johnson, a toxicologist with the Tarrant County medical examiner’s office. It dissipates just as rapidly, with its concentration in the bloodstream dropping by half 15 to 30 minutes after reaching its peak, Johnson said.

More than an hour and 20 minutes after he was arrested, Harper tested positive for 3 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, Johnson said. The typical person is considered impaired at a measurement of 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter, Johnson said.

Colorado and Washington, whose voters have approved the sale of small amounts of marijuana to adults, have set the impairment level at 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, Johnson testified.

The concentration of THC in Harper’s blood was likely close to 5 nanograms during the wrecks and shooting, Johnson said.

“You can be significantly impaired at levels higher than 2 nanograms per milliliter,” Johnson said.

The pickup driver whom Sowell saw slumped over was Najee Nasir, who was killed in the wreck. Harper has been charged with manslaughter in his death.

The maximum sentence on the murder charge is life in prison.

Testimony is expected to continue Friday in state District Judge Wayne Salvant’s court.

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