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Bayshore rape suspect accused of impersonating cop will represent himself

TAMPA — The man accused of posing as a police officer to rape a woman along Bayshore Boulevard will represent himself at his trial next week, getting a chance to publicly cross-examine his alleged victim.

Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, is not a lawyer. On Tuesday, he chose to proceed without his appointed public defender, Maria Pavlidis, after she asked to postpone the trial for four months. She had voluminous depositions still to review.

Harris doesn't want to give prosecutors extra time to build a case. Defendants are entitled to a trial within 175 days of their arrest, but most accused of serious crimes waive that right, giving their own attorneys more opportunity to prepare. Harris declined to do so.

And he chose to defend himself. Pavlidis has spent 90 percent of her time on Harris' case, she said at a previous hearing. Now, at Harris' request, Pavlidis will serve only as his standby counsel, silently available if he has legal questions.

Harris will give opening and closing statements.

He'll make objections. And have an opportunity to question his accuser, who is expected to testify.

Tampa police said that on July 29, he used a blue laser flashlight to signal the 28-year-old woman to pull over. He told her she was intoxicated, handcuffed her and put her in the back seat of his car, police said. After he used her ATM card to withdraw money, he raped her, police say.

The victim has given inconsistent statements about the flashlight and the handcuffs, the defense said at a previous hearing.

Harris' DNA was found on the woman. He said they met at the Tiny Tap and had consensual sex. But she told a detective she had not heard of the bar.

Police say he also pistol-whipped a man in the parking lot of Pete's Place, a South Tampa bar. In that crime, they say he also pretended to be a cop.

State records show Harris has never worked in law enforcement in Florida. For five months more than a decade ago, he attended a police academy in Lake County, but he did not graduate.

Harris was tried and acquitted on sexual battery charges in 1999. In 2005, he was sentenced to three years in prison for charges that included grand theft.

After his arrest this summer, he filed a slander lawsuit against the Bayshore victim, but a judge dismissed it last month.

He tried to get his public defender admonished, saying she wasn't communicating enough with him. But Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe said she had been effective and that it appeared Harris was trying to set her up for an "ineffective counsel" case on appeal. If convicted of this rape, Harris could get life in prison.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 310-2081.

Bayshore rape suspect accused of impersonating cop will represent himself 01/04/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 10, 2011 7:30am]
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