Dead Florida Deputy Named Probable Suspect in Girl's Sexual Assault, Death

A South Florida sheriff's office identified a deceased deputy as the probable suspect in the killing and sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl almost 40 years ago.

The St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office announced the closure of the 1983 cold case of Lora Ann Huizar, who was abducted, sexually assaulted and killed. The detectives in the case named Deputy James Howard Harrison as the probable suspect. However, they are unable to press charges because he died in 2008, the department said in a press release posted on Facebook on Thursday.

The sheriff's office added that Harrison had worked for 10 separate law enforcement agencies since the 1960s. During this time, he started to exhibit a pattern of "inappropriate behavior involving juvenile females," which has led detectives to believe he may be responsible for other sexual assault cases throughout Florida.

Huizar vanished on November 6, 1983, while she was walking home from a gas station. Original eyewitness reports indicated a uniformed patrol deputy, later confirmed to be Harrison, was in the area watching Huizar walking towards her home. Her body was found three days later.

"We have established probable cause to determine that Harrison abducted, sexually assaulted, and murdered the juvenile victim and later altered the crime scene by placing the victim in a drainage ditch in an attempt to destroy physical evidence," said Chief Deputy Brian Hester in the statement.

Authorities said the area where Huizar was last seen and the location of her body were both in the boundaries of Harrison's assigned zone. The sheriff's office added those familiar with the initial investigation found Harrison had instructed two witnesses to leave roughly 20 minutes before additional law enforcement members had arrived at the scene.

During that time, Harrison allegedly moved the body in an attempt to destroy evidence as cold case detectives learned the location and position of Huizar's body was different from what initial eye witnesses described seeing. However, detectives assigned to the case couldn't link Harrison to the crime or identify any other suspects at the time, so the case went cold.

The department said that in 2021 Harrison's body was exhumed to test his DNA after a private DNA lab found an unknown sample when testing Huizar's sexual assault kit. However, detectives were unable to compare the samples because of DNA degradation.

"The day I solved this case was both the worst and the best day of my 30-year career in law enforcement. Nobody dislikes a bad cop more than a good cop, and it felt bittersweet to finally provide the victim's family with some long-awaited answers," Detective Paul Taylor, who works cold cases, said in the press release.

This is a developing story and will be updated when more information becomes available.

Deceased Deputy Named as Suspect
Police named deceased St. Lucie County Sheriff Deputy James Howard Harrison as a probable suspect in the 1983 killing and sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl. Above, a police officer keeps an eye on the crowd at a Fourth of July holiday event in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Robert Alexander//Getty Images