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Defendant's girlfriend to testify

Published Sep. 13, 2005

Melissa Harris' nightmare is always the same.

She is transported out of her prison cell to a distant mobile home in which her boyfriend, Earl Linebaugh, pulls a revolver on two elderly women.

"In the nightmare, I see both ladies get shot," Harris said in an interview Tuesday evening at the county jail. "The dream always ends with Earl pointing the gun at me."

He pulls the trigger, and Harris awakens with a start, sometimes sweating, sometimes with a scream.

The vision seems as real to Harris as if she had seen it, but she said she only heard the bangs of bullets being fired as Linebaugh killed the two women in the southeastern Pasco community of Crystal Springs in 1995.

In court Tuesday morning, Harris sat with eyes averted from Linebaugh as she quietly told a judge she would testify in his first-degree murder trial, which started this week. She is the only witness to the killings, and she could play a central role in the trial of Linebaugh, who if convicted could face the death penalty.

In January, Harris was sentenced to two consecutive life terms in prison after a jury found her guilty of first-degree felony murder because the killings happened during an armed robbery. During that trial, Harris did not testify, but her attorneys portrayed her as a victim of intimidation, forced to follow Linebaugh.

During the closing argument of her trial, though, prosecutor Phil Van Allen portrayed her much differently. "But for her, the offense could not have occurred," he said. "Not only was she an equal, maybe even a major participant, but probably the most major participant in this offense of all."

Harris is appealing the convictions, but she said no deal was struck with prosecutors to induce her testimony in Linebaugh's trial.

Harris said she simply wants everyone to know the truth; that's why she said she agreed to testify in the trial, which is scheduled to last through this week. And that's why she said she agreed to be interviewed by the Times at the Pasco County jail in Land O'Lakes, where she was being held Tuesday evening.

"I think it's time for me to speak out," she said, sitting behind the glass partition of a visitation room. "I knew if I didn't speak out that the jury, they were going to be left with nothing else to think but that I was on some crazy joy-ride with Earl.

"Earl Linebaugh is a maniac. He is a danger to your life and everybody else's life," she said. "If at least I can stop him from ever getting a chance of hurting someone else, then at least I've done something . . . something good."

Harris said she often regrets she didn't summon the courage to do something sooner, something that might have saved the lives of 84-year-old Maudeline Bailey and her caregiver, 57-year-old Alice Durfee. But Harris said she was afraid Linebaugh would kill her too.

"I've been scared before of a man _ my husband _ he beat me for 10 years," she said. "But I never knew what terror was until I met Earl Linebaugh."