Echoes of the Past: Cracking the 1994 James Harris Cold Case

December 13, 2023
1 min read

In a gripping finale to a decades-long mystery, the Walker County jury convicted Robert Allen Mowry, 53, of Tullahoma, Tennessee, for the 1994 murder of James Richard Harris, 54, of Chickamauga, Georgia. This conviction, delivered on Wednesday, December 6, 2023, brings closure to a case that long haunted the Chickamauga community.

The tragic event dates back to the early hours of December 22, 1994.

Jim Harris, as friends and family knew him, was found lifeless in his driveway on Boss Road. The brutality of the crime scene was evident: Harris had been hit on the back of his head, strangled, and robbed. His pockets emptied, and his clothing disturbed, it painted a picture of a violent struggle.

For years, the case ran cold. Despite the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s dedicated efforts, the leads were sparse.

In 2005, a reanalysis of the evidence, including blood stains on Harris’s jeans and a bloody tissue found near his body, pointed to an unknown assailant.

The breakthrough came in 2009 when a phone tip hinted at an “Allen” being the suspect. This led investigators to Robert Allen Mowry, a former coworker of Harris at Miller Industries in Ooltewah, Tennessee. Mowry’s late arrival at work on the murder day and a subsequent black eye raised suspicions.

Yet, it wasn’t until 2018 and 2019 that GBI Special Agent Daniel Nicholson intensified the focus on Mowry. Nicholson’s attempts to interview Mowry were met with resistance and denial, spurring a covert operation to obtain his DNA. The strategy? Collecting cigarette butts from Mowry’s trash, which later matched the DNA from the crime scene.

After a seven-day trial, the jury delivered its verdict. Mowry, now almost the age Harris was at his death, was sentenced to life in prison by Superior Court Judge Don W. Thompson. The testimony included insights from forensic scientists, Harris’s neighbors and coworkers, and law enforcement officers from Georgia and Tennessee.

Major Mike Freeman of WCSO, who had been on the case since day one, and GBI Special Agents Joe Montgomery and Daniel Nicholson, were pivotal in the investigation and arrest. The State was represented by Assistant District Attorneys Deanna Reisman and Alan Smith, with Victim Advocates Donna Howell and Ashley Nicholson supporting Harris’s family.

“For 28 Christmases, the family of James Harris has carried the indescribable pain of not knowing the truth. There will not be a 29th Christmas because of Deanna, her team, and our law enforcement partners” said District Attorney Clayton M. Fuller.

The trial and its outcome underscore the relentless pursuit of justice by law enforcement and the community’s unwavering support in seeking answers. As the curtain falls on this tragic chapter, the Chickamauga community finds solace in the resolution of a mystery that lingered for almost three decades.

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