Suspect's mother: 'We may be fighters, we're not killers'

Thursday, December 20, 2012
Police booking mug of Malcolm Harris.

Emannuel Ware heard the gunshot. He saw the body. From just outside the nightclub's doors, the 32-year-old Cape Girardeau man watched events unfold "like a horror movie."

Most of the panicked clubgoers immediately broke for the exits, but not Ware. That's why he had a close view of what happened in the moments after a gunman sent Nicholas Gilbert collapsing to the floor.

Ware only wishes he had the same view moments before. If he had, Ware would be able to tell police definitively what he already believes in his heart -- that Malcolm Harris is not a killer.

That is the refrain the Harris family has repeated since their 21-year-old loved one was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the death early Sunday of the 32-year-old Gilbert, from Sikeston, Mo.

"We have been fighters and at times we have had to be fighters," said Ware, whose father's last name is Harris. "We will protect ourselves and stand up for ourselves."

Children in the Harris family each have been taught that, Ware said.

Willie and Rose Harris said their nephew is right, and it was no different with their six children.

"They've had to fight. They've defended themselves," Rose Harris said. "They're not going to back down and run. They've got to stand up to a challenge. But they don't go out with guns. We may be fighters, we're not killers."

Skeptics may point out the Harris name sometimes shows up in police reports and some of Willie and Rose's children have been arrested. Malcolm Harris, for example, was charged last year in the armed robbery of a transit-authority van driver.

Willie Harris, a supervisor at Tipton Linen, said that, regrettably, some of his children -- like him -- have learned the hard way. He also made mistakes when he was younger, including one that sent him to prison for seven years.

"I haven't been no angel," Willie Harris said. "My wife has, but not me. I made a lot of bad choices and mistakes. But for the past 12 years, he said, he hasn't had as much as a traffic ticket.

But he knew when he raised his children, especially the four boys, they would have to use their fists to defend themselves on occasion; but only in self-defense, he insisted.

"If I had to put my life on the line on whether Malcolm did this, I would," Willie Harris said. "He did not shoot that man."

Police and prosecutors feel differently. Court documents on file say that a witness told authorities she saw Malcolm Harris pull a gun from his waistband and fire it at Gilbert while the two were fighting.

Harris was apprehended in front of the home of Willie and Rose Harris on South West End Boulevard. He had a bloody left hand and a swollen eye, and his hands tested positive for a metal often found in guns.

The Harrises believe the case is flimsy. Willie Harris wonders about the intoxication level of any witness, though a police spokesman said Wednesday they took that into account.

The elder Harris knows people probably will think he is simply a father blindly defending his son, but he said he truly believes that killing isn't in the nature of any of his children, even when they might have had reason.

One of the Harris sons, 23-year-old Alexander, was stabbed twice and shot in the leg with a .40-caliber pistol. In that instance, Willie Harris said, his son might have felt justified to retaliate.

But he didn't.

As the investigation into Gilbert's homicide continues, the worried couple agrees their son is in the fight of his life. And it may be one he is ill-equipped to handle.

"When you get into a courtroom, nothing you learned on the streets is going to matter," Willie Harris said.

Rose Harris, who has spoken to her son on the phone since his arrest Sunday afternoon, said he told her he doesn't know anything about Gilbert's death.

Malcolm Harris was intoxicated and all he remembers is falling and hearing a gunshot. At one point, he even thought he had been shot, she said.

They also fret about coming up with money to pay for an attorney who can defend their son in court, should it come to that.

But they are fearful because charges against their son carry the possibility of a lifetime in prison.

While Rose Harris said she has great sympathy for the Gilbert family, she believes her son also is a victim.

"I'm sorry for the mother that lost her son," she said. "I'm a mother. We should not have to bury our kids. Our kids should bury us. But I'm not going to sacrifice my son's life, because he is innocent."

Several of Gilbert's family, including a father and sister in Arkansas, declined to comment in the aftermath of the shooting.

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

433 S. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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