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November 14, 2003

Courtroom hearing in sign language spells out life sentence for murder

From: St. Louis Dispatch, MO - Nov 14, 2003

By William C. Lhotka Post-Dispatch

With computer monitors in front of him and a signer for the hearing impaired alongside, Scott Harper admitted Thursday that he had murdered his wife last year at their house in Northwoods.

The St. Louis County courtroom had been electronically rigged so that Harper, a deaf mute, and members of the deaf community could see the questions of Judge John F. Kintz, Harper's answers and impact statements by relatives of the victim.

As part of a plea agreement, Kintz sentenced Harper, 39, to consecutive life sentences for second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Harper initially had been charged with first-degree murder.

Spectators in the first eight rows could easily follow the proceedings on a large video screen. Two terminals were placed in front of Harper for his use; the judge and court reporter Tina Givens had one each.

As the hourlong hearing unfolded, Kintz would ask a question; Givens would type the question on the computer; and the interpreter would ask the question in sign language. Then Harper would reply in sign language, the signer would give the judge the answer, and Givens would type it for instant transmission to all the terminals.

Harper was accused of killing his wife, Karvita Barnett-Harper, 42, on Aug. 5 last year because he was having an affair with a male boarder. Both Harper's wife and lover also were deaf.

Prosecutor Steve O'Brien said the victim and the defendant had argued about the boarder living in the basement of their house. Officials said that on the day of the murder, Harper and the boarder were smoking crack cocaine.

Harper got a kitchen knife and stabbed his wife multiple times until the knife broke off, and then he got a second one, O'Brien said. Again the knife blade broke, and the defendant finished the killing with a pair of scissors, O'Brien said.

Harper then used his wife's ATM card to get money and take his lover to a motel where they had sex, the prosecutor said.

Prosecutors said medical records would show Harper was treated for a hand injury suffered when one of the knife blades broke, corroborating his confession.

Kintz asked Harper if O'Brien's narrative was accurate and Harper signed affirmatively. Harper indicated he was pleading guilty because he did commit the crime.

Testifying how much they loved the victim and how much her death had affected their lives were Delores Barnett, the victim's mother, and sisters Linda Comer, Aiesha Anderson and Felicia Reece.

"You have made our lives a continuous hardship, particularly for my granddaughter," said Delores Barnett, who is raising Barnett-Harper's daughter, Kanetha, 11. "I pray the court will do justice for her."

Linda Comer told Harper: "You took our sister, friend, daughter, mother, niece and all those other good things that she was."

Harper offered no apologies before he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs.

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