This week we are going to pause from our usual Cold Case Spotlight and focus on justice. Or, as the case may be, the lack thereof. Sometimes, as families of unsolved homicide victims, we get caught up in believing that an arrest automatically means justice for our loved one.
That is not always the case and for many reasons sometimes the system fails us and our loved ones. I have heard it said that the United States justice system “is not perfect but it’s the best system in the world”. We know the system isn’t perfect because innocent people have gone to prison and guilty people have been acquitted. Whether it is the best system in the world or not I am sure can be debated as well. But it is our system and it is the long, winding, rocky, sometimes unfair path that victims and their families must go down in hopes of receiving justice.
This week we are spotlighting the solved case of James Allen Harms to demonstrate the difference between an arrest and conviction and justice. While this case is resolved in the eyes of our system, I want readers to ask themselves if they’d consider this justice. On April 22, 2007 at 3:36am, James Allen Harms, a 56-year-old retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer, was most the way through his drive from Florida to Louisiana. Just ahead of him on I-10 west in Gulfport Mississippi a car driven by Alicia Carmack struck the back of a black Ford Mustang. The Mustang spun one way, hitting a concrete guardrail and coming to rest facing the wrong direction in the middle lane. Carmack veered off the road into the grass. James Harms was quickly approaching the crash in the middle lane pulling a U-haul trailer. With no time to avoid the wreckage James struck the mustang head-on, sending the U-haul trailer whipping around both cars. The 1989 blue Buick Lasabre James was driving came to rest in the far right lane. Moments later a speeding blue Ford Mustang driven by Tadeo Marcias swerved to avoid the disabled black Mustang still in the middle lane and smashed into the back of James’ car.
When police and rescue arrived they found four mangled cars and one fatality. James Allen Harms had been killed in the crash. Tadeo Marcias had to be cut out of the blue Mustang he was driving and taken by ambulance to a local hospital. The driver of the black Mustang was bloody and bruised and also taken to a local hospital, but before being transported he told officers that the driver that started the chain of collisions (Alicia Carmack) had jumped from her car and fled the scene on foot. As the investigation unfolded it was discovered that Alicia Carmack had been driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs that night. She was arrested and charged with Felony DUI Causing Death, Felony Leaving the Scene and cited for Possession of Marijuana. Tadeo Marcias was discovered to be an illegal immigrant who was also driving under the influence that night. Marcias invoked his right to remain silent during questioning at the hospital.
For reasons that have never been explained to the family of James Harms, Tadeo Marcias was never charged with any crime in relation to the crash that killed James Harms on April 22, 2007. Marcias was picked up again, a year later, for driving under the influence and charged with DUI First Offense (despite his involvement in the April 2007 crash) and turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Alicia Carmack was convicted of both charges and sentenced, consecutively, to 20 years for DUI Manslaughter and 5 years for Fleeing the Scene. The judge suspended 15 of the 25 year sentence and Carmack was sent to prison to serve 10 years followed by 5 years probation. However, in December 2012 she was released under Mississippi’s Earned Release Supervision (ERS) after serving less than 4 years. One year later James Harms’ son Carl discovered Carmack was posting pictures on social media drinking, going to bars and travelling outside of Gulfport. Carl Harms reported her to the Mississippi Department of Corrections and she was arrested for for violating the terms of her release. There was a chance Carmack would be forced to serve the final 6 years of her 10 year sentence, but once again she was released early, just 6 months later. She has since been arrested at least twice including a grand larceny charge from March of this year.
James Harms’ son, Carl, is a victim advocate in Jacksonville, Florida and founded JAXImpact, an educational awareness program that brings a real life crime scene to the public for all to see, sharing a story of life, death and responsibility. Carl’s goal was not to blame the system but to become a part of the system in hopes of making it better.