TN v. Annette Harvey: Murder Between Mothers Trial

Posted at 4:10 PM, February 12, 2024

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Court TV) — A jury convicted a Tennessee woman of first-degree premeditated murder for the stabbing death of her friend, despite her testimony that her mental state was compromised.

Annette Harvey's Washington County Sheriff's Office mug shot.

Annette Harvey (Washington County Sheriff’s Office)

Annette Harvey, 54, pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder in the death of Robin Leonard, 50, a psychology professor at Eastern Tennessee State University. At the time of the stabbing, Leonard had custody of Harvey’s children.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours before returning a verdict of guilty on all counts, with fines totaling $125,000.

The incident occurred at Leonard’s home on Jan. 18, 2021. When police arrived, they found Leonard severely injured, but she told them that Harvey had stabbed her. Harvey had allegedly fled the scene, but was apprehended later that day. Leonard, who had been stabbed at least eight times in the torso area, was taken to Johnson City Medical Center where she succumbed to her injuries 11 days later.

Prior to the stabbing, Leonard had reportedly moved Harvey’s two young children to another home because Harvey had taken them from Leonard’s home two days earlier. Police found the kids with Harvey in Bristol, Tennessee, and returned them to Leonard. Instead of bringing them back to her home, Leonard placed them elsewhere for their own safety.

The next morning, police said Harvard showed up at Leonard’s home with a knife. Johnson City Police showed up at the house after getting a hang-up on a 911 call.

Responding officers found blood on the porch, a baseball bat covered in blood, furniture strewn about the home, and Harvey’s purse. There were no signs of forced entry but there was blood throughout the house and appeared that a struggle had taken place. A fence on the property had been hit by a car, tire tracks were found in the show, and pieces of the vehicle were found.

Investigators said Harvey called police to report that she’d been hit in the head with a bat. Officers were then able to match the broken pieces to Harvey’s vehicle.

Prior to trial, Harvey’s previous attorneys filed a notice of intent to rely on an insanity defense, but her current lawyers withdrew the notice and abandoned the defense. Attorney Don Spurrell asked the judge to allow a diminished capacity charge based on evidence and testimony from lay people that Harvey was in a “diminished” or fragile mental state that could lessen her culpability. The difference between an insanity defense and a diminished capacity charge is that the former requires Harvey to admit the offense, Spurrell said. “We are not admitting the offense,” he concluded. While the judge allowed it, the judge denied a similar request by the defense to allow a self-defense instruction.

The judge scheduled Harvey’s sentencing for May 1, 2024.

DAILY TRIAL UPDATES

DAY 5 – 2/12/24

DAY 4 – 2/9/24

DAY 3 – 2/8/24

  • Johnson City Police investigator Joseph Jaynes testified to photos of Robin Leonard’s home that showed signs of a struggle in Leonard’s bedroom and a car’s hasty departure from the driveway.
  • Victim Robin Leonard’s sister, Amy Grizzel, identified a photo of Leonard and the defendant when they were 16. The photo was among items in disarray in Leonard’s bedroom from the altercation between the two.
  • Grizzel said her sister was stressed from caring for Harvey and her daughter but also concerned for their safety because she believed Harvey’s account of being pursued by an abusive husband.
  • Medical examiner Dr. Emilie Cook testified that Leonard’s cause of death was complications from multiple sharp force injuries to the back, posterior left leg, hip region, hands and arm.
    • During cross-examination, Harvey’s lawyer indirectly floated the possibility that Harvey had urinated on herself at some point during the altercation out of fear, and may have been on the ground when she stabbed.
  • The jury heard Annette Harvey’s jail calls with husband Michael Slattery, in which she initially blamed the attack on masked men and then later said she acted in self-defense when Leonard attacked her with a bat.
  • The state rested its case.
  • The judge denied a defense motion for acquittal.

DAY 2 – 2/7/24

  • Alexander Leonard, victim Robin Leonard’s son, said he feared for his mother’s safety after she took in Annette Harvey’s children because he thought it was a “volatile situation” and he didn’t trust Harvey not to do something “stupid” or “erratic.”
  • The jury heard about texts Alexander Leonard sent his mother, urging her to call police if Harvey showed up at her house.
  • Alexander Leonard and the defendant teared up as he described the decision to end his mother’s life and her final moments on life support.
  • Rebecca Lewis, a childhood friend of the defendant and victim, said she “didn’t have the heart” to refuse the request to watch Annette Harvey’s children when police called her out of the blue to the high school where Harvey had sought refuge. Lewis hadn’t spoken to Harvey in months and had not seen her in decades.
  • Lewis described her and Leonard’s efforts to talk to Harvey and figure out what was wrong with her before Harvey slipped away in the middle of the night with her children.
  • Taxi driver Douglas Hathaway described the “red flag” warnings that led him to call police on Harvey while she and her children were in his car.
  • Hathaway drove them first to an alley where Harvey picked up a bag, telling her children to lay down in their seats as she did so, then to Pastor Randy Robbins’ house, who turned them away, and then to the Shell gas station where police met them.
  • One of Harvey’s children told the cab driver, “I don’t want to go with her,” when Harvey stepped out of the car at the pastor’s home.
  • Harvey told Hathaway that her husband was following her and that she “kidnapped” her children so she could find a safe place for them.
  • Pastor Randy Robbins responded, “I’m not on trial here,” when asked about how he turned Harvey and her children away from his door.
  • Department of Childrens Services facilitator Jacosha Alexander described talking to Harvey at the Shell station: “It was a lot of chatter I couldn’t make sense of.”
  • The decision was made to leave the children with Leonard (even though she expressed reluctance because of her schedule), who then handed them off to Lewis so that Leonard could attend a family birthday party. The children were with Lewis when Harvey returned to Leonards home looking for her kids. Harvey was not supposed to contact the children or visit Leonard’s house under the terms of the agreement.

DAY 1 – 2/6/24

  • The state and defense gave opening statement, setting up dueling narratives framing Annette Harvey’s actions: premeditated murder or the tragic result of paranoid delusions?
  • The jury heard the defendant’s 911 call immediately after the incident, claiming she was attacked with a baseball bat, was married to a cult leader and drug trafficker and needed “all the powers that be to stop him.”
  • The victim’s neighbor, James Lawson, testified to security video that included the victim’s audible cries for help.
    • Lawson said the victim and the defendant both told him to be on the lookout for Harvey’s husband.
  • Two law enforcement witnesses, school resource officer Alan Shaffer and investigator Darrell Collins, described Harvey as “disoriented” and “frantic” when she showed up at a high school claiming to be seeking refuge from her husband. They couldn’t tell if she was in mental distress or a drug-induced state. She agreed to take an ambulance to a hospital for an evaluation, but returned approximately 45 minutes later with Robin Leonard, looking for her children.
    • During cross-examination, the defense emphasized Harvey’s apparent mental distress.
  • Johnson City traffic engineer Tyler Morris showed a video montage of Harvey’s car driving away from the scene.
    • During cross-examination, Morris agreed that the car was not speeding or driving erratically.
  • WATCH: Murder Between Mothers Trial: Day 1 Recap