By Ed Brock
Sheila Howell of Hampton said holidays and birthdays with her daughter and 2-year-old granddaughter were always special occasions.
That all changed on Nov. 8, 1999 when 22-year-old Whitney Land and her daughter Jordan were shot to death and their bodies left in a burning car.
“Now holidays are terrible. Birthdays are worse,” Howell said Friday in her testimony in the sentencing phase of the trial of 27-year-old Wesley Vandale Harris. “Whitney and Jordan are gone, but the birthdays still come. They will never get older than two and twenty-two.”
On Friday a jury in Gwinnett County found Harris guilty of murdering Land and her daughter. Testimony is expected to continue Monday and prosecutors are asking for the death penalty.
Reading from a statement that had been edited by Harris' defense attorneys, Howell also said “the memories still linger and the pain is very much alive.”
“I dreamed of a future that included grandmother, granddaughter time. Walks in the park,” Howell said.
During her testimony even Harris wiped tears from his eyes.
Land and Jordan were living with the Holes at the time of the murders. Holmes said previously that she last spoke with her daughter around 4 p.m. when Land called from Panhandle Park in Clayton County to say that Jordan and she were coming home.
At the time Land was separated from her husband Eddie Land and had argued with him by cell phone on the day of the killings.
District Attorney Danny Porter says Harris abducted the two from the park and then drove the Lands' car to Gwinnett County. There, he shot them, put their bodies in the trunk and burned the car.
Harris was arrested at the Wendy's restaurant on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro where he worked.
Bob Keller was Clayton County's district attorney at the time and after talking together Porter and he decided the case should be heard in Gwinnett County.
“Venue in murder cases is the county in which a person was killed or, if that can't be determined, then where the body was found,” Keller said.
Holding the trial in Gwinnett removed the question of venue, Keller said, because there was little evidence that the murders actually occurred in Clayton County.
Harris did not testify during his trial in Gwinnett County Superior Court, but jurors saw a videotape of his police interview in which he claimed he was innocent.
During the interview, Harris admitted to burning the vehicle but said he did not shoot the victims.
“I did not kill nobody. I'll tell you that,” Harris told a police detective as he held his head in his hands. In the tape, his arm is bandaged. Authorities think he burned himself setting the car on fire.
Porter told jurors Harris' videotaped interview, gun ballistic tests, the victim's cell phone records and testimony from one of Harris' friends pointed to his guilt.