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Hillsborough defendant, crying on stand: 'I didn't rape her'

TAMPA — As the Bayshore rape suspect attempted to represent himself in trial last week, he questioned his accuser, trying to pick apart the woman's account that he posed as an undercover cop and raped her.

On Wednesday, it was his turn to be cross-examined.

Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, took the witness stand on the sixth day of his Hillsborough trial, one prolonged by a near-mistrial after his request, three days into proceedings, for an attorney.

Harris shed tears when his newly-reappointed public defender, Chuck Traina, asked a string of questions about the allegations.

"I didn't rape her," Harris said.

His version: He saw the 28-year-old driver hit a curb and stopped to help. She appeared groggy and on drugs. They ended up going to the Tiny Tap bar and the Hard Rock Casino. At one point, when they both needed money, she gave him her ATM card and asked him to withdraw cash. They had consensual sex.

The night ended with a mutual kiss and an exchange of phone numbers, he told his lawyer.

Harris said she waved goodbye — "I figured she would call."

Harris' attorney asked if he'd ever been convicted of a felony. Three, he responded, two of which involved dishonesty.

The woman's version: Harris posed as an undercover narcotics officer to fake a DUI arrest, then told her to give him her ATM card, saying she would need the bail money. She realized he was an imposter but cooperated out of fear for her life. Not long after, he raped her.

During cross-examination, prosecutor Jennifer Johnson asked why Harris had originally lied to detectives about the length of time he'd been in town.

"Because I was scared," Harris responded.

Harris also said he was scared when he didn't tell detectives about withdrawals he made from the victim's bank account without her permission. He admitted that after he and the woman parted, he used her card at the gas station and casino. Like his earlier decision to proceed to trial without his lawyers, he called it an "error in judgment."

"When law enforcement found you, you were hiding on a rooftop, correct?" Johnson asked him.

"Correct," he responded.

He acknowledged that he lied when he originally told investigators that he didn't have sex with anyone while he was in town.

"They were trying to get me to admit to a rape," he said.

Defendants often don't take the witness stand in their own defense, but Harris, since his arrest, hasn't been silent.

Tuesday and Wednesday, jurors watched recorded statements he had given to detectives.

From jail, he reached out to reporters, calling them and granting interviews against the advice of his attorneys. In court this week, he burst into tears after his lawyers didn't let him pass a television journalist a note.

He gave his own opening statements. But on Thursday, his attorneys will have the last word in his defense.

After closing statements, the case will head to the jury.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, breaks down in tears during questioning Wednesday.

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times

Luis Munuzuri-Harris, 31, breaks down in tears during questioning Wednesday.

Hillsborough defendant, crying on stand: 'I didn't rape her' 01/19/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 11:39pm]
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