As Bad As It Gets
By: Milos Damnjanovic
Michael Harrison’s clean record in prison for the last 11 years impressed the judge but not enough for him to grant a quick release.
On April 7, 2017, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge W. Terrence O’Brien re-sentenced Harrison to 30 years in prison for his role in the 1994 gang shooting death of 16-year-old Byron Patton. Harrison has served 17 years already.
Isaac Butler, who pulled the trigger, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in 2000 and served 12 years in a state prison before his release in March of 2012. Harrison provided the gun and drove the car in an act of revenge for the 1992 shooting death of Butler’s brother. In 2000, Harrison was found guilty of first-degree murder by a jury and was originally given a life sentence with no possibility of parole. Harrison’s retrial came after a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision found mandatory life sentencing for juveniles to be unconstitutional.
During his recent resentencing hearing, Harrison testified about his troubled childhood and the strong influence of gangs in his neighborhood of Larimer.
His father lived in Texas, Harrison said, and they didn’t have much of a relationship. He was periodically in prison for drug-related offenses. He was raised by his grandmother. Harrison described his community as having a “war-like mentality,” and he said he had served as a pallbearer at several friends’ funerals by the time of his arrest at age 22. When originally offered a plea deal of five to 10 years in exchange for his testimony against Butler and a third assailant, Kevin Lee, who was eventually found not guilty, Harrison had refused.
During his time in prison, Harrison earned a GED (General Education Development, which is generally accepted as the equivalent of a high school diploma) and paralegal certificate. He also took classes on victim awareness, violence prevention and the impact of crime. He accumulated 11 misconducts on his prison record but none since 2006. Judge O’Brien said he believed that Harrison had been rehabilitated but added that his intent to kill was “as bad as it gets.”
When Harrison was escorted into the courtroom by two police officers, he smiled when he saw his mother and other members of the family there to support him. The victim’s family did not attend the hearing.