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Linebaugh girlfriend: Trooper gave ride

One day in November 1995, Melissa Harris said, she and her then-boyfriend Earl Linebaugh were riding west on Interstate 4 in an overdue U-Haul truck when Linebaugh began to get worried.

He was wanted on charges of stealing guns from his father's home in Texas, Harris said. So Linebaugh decided to abandon the rental truck at a gas station, she said, and the two started walking west on the highway.

Soon after, Harris said, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper unwittingly helped the two along on their wandering journey, which eventually took them to a mobile home in southeastern Pasco County, where authorities say they shot and killed two elderly women.

The trooper told them they couldn't walk on the highway and gave them a ride about 15-20 minutes down the road, she said. Harris said she kept quiet about Linebaugh because she was afraid he might shoot her with a gun he held in the back seat.

And, straying from regular protocol, the trooper never asked to see any identification, Harris said. Had he done a records check, she said, their odyssey might have ended there.

But it didn't. So now, Harris is serving two consecutive life terms in prison, and Linebaugh's first-degree murder trial began this week.

In a jail interview, portions of which were published in the Times on Wednesday, Harris said it was Linebaugh who shot 84-year-old Maudeline Bailey and her 57-year-old caregiver, Alice Durfee.

Harris has agreed to testify in Linebaugh's trial, and on Wednesday, she answered lawyers' questions in a closed deposition.

Linebaugh's defense attorneys have said Harris is not a credible witness because she failed a lie-detector test and made inconsistent statements.

During her interview Tuesday at the Pasco County jail, Harris said she wasn't an accomplice in the killings but a victim who could not escape Linebaugh.

Two times _ once before they left Texas and once after the killings _ Linebaugh raped her, Harris said, though he is not charged with that crime.

Near the Canadian border, where the couple was apprehended, Harris said, she tried to fight Linebaugh for the wheel of Durfee's car. But she said Linebaugh regained control, pulled over and raped her. "He told me I was going to go to Canada, either in the passenger seat or the trunk of the car," she said

By then, she said, she knew the abrupt ups and downs that Linebaugh's personality could take. When the two arrived in Crystal Springs after walking north along train tracks from I-4, Harris said, Linebaugh was looking for a car and ordered her to ask for a phone at the mobile home that turned out to be Bailey's.

They entered twice, Harris said. The first time, she said, Linebaugh just made polite chit-chat. But when the two retreated outside, she said, he told her he planned to tie up the women and steal the car.

When Harris refused to be a part of it, she said, Linebaugh picked her up by her shoulders and angrily said: "You're going."

The second time the women answered the door, she said, Linebaugh burst in, pulled a gun (which she thought he had left outside), and began yelling at them to get down on the floor. His voice later turned oddly calm, she said.

"I'm just thinking: "This man has gone mad,' " she said.

Harris said one question still haunts her:

"I've lived this every day of my life since this happened _ everyday. What could I have done to stop those two ladies from dying?

"And I tell you, there's nothing I could have done. . . . I could have died too if I had got in Earl's way."