Nearly 36 years after he murdered Cal Poly’s head librarian, a former Pismo Beach man was paroled Friday, according to a spokesperson from the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
Howell Petrey Harris, 90, was convicted of fatally shooting Norman D. Alexander, 49, in a Cal Poly parking lot on Jan. 15, 1979. Harris believed Alexander was having an affair with his wife, who had worked with Alexander at the library.
Harris, who had been denied parole during eight previous hearings, now suffers from severe dementia and uses a wheelchair.
Citing Harris’ lack of remorse and “irrational jealousy,” the District Attorney’s Office sent a letter to the board opposing Harris’ parole.
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“It is our position, based on both the vicious nature of the crime and on his post-conviction behavior, that inmate Harris presents an unreasonable risk of danger to the community, despite his advanced age and deteriorating condition,” the letter read. “The inmate has consistently maintained that the shooting was an accident, taking no responsibility for his cold-blooded crime.”
According to a transcript from his last hearing, Harris had become cantankerous, known to urinate on himself and lie in bed naked.
Because of his health, the parole board also held a medical parole hearing for Harris.
“I think the board is simply trying to be as thorough as possible in reviewing the circumstances,” said CDCR spokesperson Bill Sessa.
Sessa said he did not know why the additional hearing was called. The results of that hearing were not immediately available.
The board’s legal staff will review the case and decision, Sessa said. After that, the governor will have 120 days to review the case and 30 more to reverse the decision, if he chooses.
After Alexander was shot in the head, he lingered in a hospital for three days until he died from brain damage. After news of his death was announced, flags at Cal Poly were lowered to half-staff. His remains were cremated and scattered in the Black Hills in his native state of South Dakota.
Harris was trained as a medical doctor but never practiced medicine. He received a doctorate from the University of Innsbruck in Austria.
Initially, his son, Howell Henry Harris, then 17, was also charged in the murder. But charges against him were eventually dismissed when it was determined that he had no involvement.
According to Harris’ 1979 probation report, his wife, Mary, described him as “aggressive, intelligent, basically honest, dominant, very jealous, for the most part stable, knows he’s right, likeable, sometimes kind with the ability to hit people the wrong way.”