Renfrow gets life sentence

By Staff
AFTER THE HEARING Lauderdale County deputies Greg Crane, left, and Andy Siciliano escort Harland Craig Renfrow to the county jail Thursday after he was sentenced to life for sexual battery.Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
March 29, 2002
The door of the Lauderdale County Courthouse flew open Thursday afternoon and two young women emerged smiling, laughing, holding their fists over their heads in celebration.
And the door closed.
The door of the Lauderdale County Courthouse opened slowly, and a young girl crying silently and painfully was led out, half-carried by an older woman.
And the door closed.
The door opened a third and final time, and bailiffs escorted Harland Craig Renfrow to the Lauderdale County Detention Facility. Circuit Judge Larry Roberts had just sentenced him to life in prison.
Less than an hour earlier, 23 people family members and friends of both Renfrow and the victim waited in the second floor courtroom to see what sentence the judge would hand down.
Renfrow was convicted Feb. 21 of sexual battery against his own daughter, who was then 3 years old. A large object of some kind was used in the attack. The injuries to the child's vagina, rectum and bowels were so severe that several surgeries were needed to repair the damage.
The sentencing hearing was delayed as Renfrow's attorney, Stewart Parrish, presented two post-trial motions. One asserted that Renfrow's trial was so flawed that he was entitled to a new one. The other asked the judge to set aside the jury's verdict.
Parrish stared down at a list in his hands.
Parrish's problems with the trial involve hearsay evidence, stricken testimony the jury nonetheless heard, the exhibition of a phallus he said District Attorney Bilbo Mitchell could not prove was the weapon used in the assault, contradictions in the timeline presented by prosecutors and lack of an expert witness to testify in Renfrow's behalf.
The judge denied both motions.
Over the course of the hearing, Parrish's frustration would only increase.
Victim's family takes the stand
Frankie Davis, the victim's mother, asked Roberts to give Renfrow a life sentence.
Parrish challenged her.
He did not get far into a series of questions about how well Davis cared for the child before Assistant District Attorney Vel Heidelberg objected. Roberts sustained the objection and told Parrish to move on to other questions.
The victim's maternal grandmother, Linda Boatwright, was the next to speak. She read from a piece of paper, picking her head up occasionally to direct her gaze at Renfrow.
Parrish cited his client's unwavering assertions of innocence and refusal to consider a plea bargain as the actions of an innocent man.
Asked to recommend a sentence, Parrish said it didn't matter.
No one spoke for Renfrow although there had been speculation that another daughter, the young girl who would be led away in tears after the hearing, would plead for him.
Judge imposes sentence
A pre-sentence investigation also revealed that Renfrow had three prior misdemeanor convictions for crimes involving family violence disturbance to family in August 1997, domestic violence in December 1998 and child abuse in January 2000.
He received a six-month suspended sentence for the last conviction, Heidelberg said, and was on probation when he was arrested for the attack on his daughter.
The judge said he tries to temper his decisions with mercy, but found himself unable to do so in this case. The range of sentences for sexual battery runs from 20 years to life.
Renfrow plans to appeal his conviction and sentence to the Mississippi State Supreme Court.