TAMPA — A rape suspect and his alleged victim faced each other in a Hillsborough courtroom Tuesday and debated the details of the encounter that led them there.
Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, was on trial, accused of posing as a cop to pull over and rape a 28-year-old woman along Bayshore Boulevard. He’d chosen to represent himself, meaning that he, not a defense attorney, got to cross-examine the woman.
In a justice system where the defendant has a right to remain silent and where rape victims are delicately approached, it was an unusual exchange.
“What made you pull over?” Harris asked her.
“You,” she responded. “You flagged me down. I thought maybe I may have hit you.”
“When this person walks up to your car,” he asked, “do you get out of your car?“
She locked eyes with his.
“When you walk up to my vehicle,” she said.
“Do you recall telling a detective I was 6-2, heavy and fat?” he asked. She responded, “You are heavy and fat.”
So it went for more than two hours — him asking her detailed questions of the night she said she was raped, trying to show conflicts in her testimony; her remaining calm, talking back.
This was her testimony for prosecutor Jennifer Johnson:
She was headed to work the night of July 29 when she saw a blue light and a man waving her over. Harris told her she was swerving, asked for her license and said he was taking her to Orient Road Jail. He told her he was an undercover narcotics officer, handcuffed her and put her in the back seat of his Chevy Impala, which she assumed was an unmarked police car.
But then, he got lost. That’s when she said she realized he wasn’t a cop.
He took her to an ATM, saying it was so she could withdraw bail money, she testified.
This guy is going to kill me, she remembered thinking.
But he didn’t. Instead, she said, after he visited two banks, he drove back to where she had left her car, joined her in the back seat and raped her. She said she cooperated but cried.
“I was feeling mad,” she told the prosecutor. “I was feeling stupid, that I could be naive enough to believe he was a cop.”
On cross-examination, Harris pressed her about conflicts in her previous accounts.
“I tried to block you out of my memory,” she told him.
Harris asked whether she had taken Ambien that day. She had, along with four medications she takes for kidney problems and lupus.
He played a 911 tape in which she spoke calmly and her uncle did not mention rape until about four minutes into the call.
Her uncle, whom she lives with, said he didn’t think she wanted to talk about it. He admitted that he initially found her story hard to believe.
But Harris’ DNA was found inside her. His explanation is that she hit a curb, he rendered aid, they went to a bar. He said they had consensual sex.
Some of his first words to the jury during opening statements: “I’m not a monster.”
But the woman made her point clear as she continued to lock eyes with her alleged attacker:
“I was raped,” she said, “by you. You forced sex upon me.”
Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe scolded Harris repeatedly after he asked improper questions and took lengthy pauses to read from a deposition.
“I don’t know if this is some type of a ploy on your behalf to keep the victim on the stand as long as you can,” he said, “in an attempt to break her.”
The drama stretched beyond the cross-examination of the woman. It lasted all day.
After lunch, Harris made a vague announcement about potential trial-stopping information. Harris’ mother accused a juror of sharing his opinions about the case with the panel, which if proven would have been misconduct.
The judge questioned each juror and found that the mother misinterpreted a question the juror asked a bailiff.
But in front of the jury, Harris announced a future request for a mistrial. Tharpe’s face tightened. The judge said Harris could do whatever he wanted to do. That motion, police testimony and more will unfold as the trial continues today.