A jury took about an hour Thursday to sentence a man to life in prison for tying up a popular Fort Worth assistant store manager on Black Friday in 2014, beating and killing her, then burning the body.
Ashlea Ann Harris was murdered Nov. 28, 2014, by Clarence David Mallory, 22, and his co-defendant, Carter Carol Cervantes, 28. Cervantes also received a sentence of life without parole at a separate trial in May 2016.
“Imagine the horror,” said Kevin Rousseau, Tarrant County prosecutor, during closing arguments Thursday. “Someone is probably sitting on you while someone else is taping up your hands and then your ankles.
“They slash her throat and then, when she is finally dead, they set her place on fire. There are a lot of people at her apartment complex, which says a lot about the defendants in this case.”
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Police said they believe Mallory and Cervantez killed Harris so they could steal her keys to the American Eagle Outfitters store at the mall, to get in later and steal the store’s cash the day after Thanksgiving, popularly known as Black Friday.
Harris, 31, was an assistant store manager at the store.
Cervantez was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in May of last year after taking the stand and blaming the murder on Mallory.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against either defendant.
After the death and two trials, the family feels as if they had to endure Harris’s death three times, said the victim’s stepfather, Charles “Chuck Daddy” Cassity, as family and friends waited for the verdict Thursday.
“Our personal preference would have been that they both would be executed,” Charles Cassity said. “But the state made the decision to not pursue the death penalty. The overall lack of a criminal history and Mallory’s age at the time the crime was committed contributed to that decision I’m sure.”
Cervantez, Mallory and Harris had worked together at the store. Cervantez was also an assistant manager.
Police officers have testified that they believe Cervantez and Mallory were responsible for the theft of nearly $18,000 from the store on Aug. 24, 2014, the final week of back-to-school sales.
Both were eventually fired. But the back-to-school theft whet the pair’s appetite for an even bigger heist, Rousseau said.
A former store manager said the pair plotted a Black Friday theft that could have netted more than $50,000.
A text Mallory sent to Cervantez with two sets of coordinates led police to a shallow hole on a ranch in Leuders, a sleepy town about 34 miles north of Abilene.
Fort Worth police Detective Jerry Cedillo said he thought the hole was a grave meant for Harris.
“There are no good murders,” Rousseau said. “But at least there are some you can understand. This was different. At a minimum this took at least a month of planning. They stalked Ashlea Harris like people stalk a deer.”