Deceased Florida deputy named as probably suspect in 1983 murder of 11-year-old girl

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PORT ST. LUCIE, FL – St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Brian Hester today announced that the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office has closed a 1983 cold case involving the homicide of then 11-year-old Lora Ann Huizar. Based on information obtained during the investigation, detectives have named former deputy James Howard Harrison as the only probable suspect in this case. The sheriff’s office is unable to pursue charges against Harrison due to the suspect’s death in 2008.

“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.

On Nov. 6, 1983, according to original witness reports, a uniformed patrol deputy, later confirmed to be Harrison, observed Huizar walking toward her home from a local gas station around the time of her disappearance. On Nov. 9, 1983, deputies recovered Huizar’s body nearby. Both locations were within the boundaries of Harrison’s assigned zone near Midway Road and Shinn Road in western St. Lucie County. Detectives originally assigned to the case were unable to link Harrison to the crime or identify any viable suspects at that time.

In 2021, analysts at a private DNA lab recovered unknown male DNA from the victim’s sexual assault kit. In response to this new evidence, cold case detectives obtained a search warrant to exhume Harrison’s body. A comparison was not possible, however, due to the DNA’s degradation.

Those familiar with the original investigation have confirmed that Harrison had instructed two witnesses to leave the scene approximately 20 minutes before additional law enforcement personnel arrived to assist. Cold case detectives also learned that the location and position of the victim’s body, once initial crime scene investigators and detectives arrived on the scene, differed from initial witness accounts.

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“Approximately 2% of cold cases in the United States ever get solved,” said Detective Paul Taylor, cold case detective for the St. Lucie County Sherriff’s Office. “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.”

Harrison had worked for 10 separate law enforcement agencies in Florida since the 1960s. During this time, he exhibited a pattern of inappropriate behavior involving juvenile females. This pattern has led detectives to believe that Harrison may be responsible for other sexual assault cases across the state.

If you have any information regarding Harrison or his possible involvement in this or any other criminal investigation, you may contact the St. Lucie County Criminal Investigation Division at 772-462-3230.