BATON ROUGE, LA — It was winter time in Baton Rouge — February 19, 2009. The days were short and the nights were long; ideal conditions for criminals to strike.
Not many knew this better than 34-year-old Chiquita Tate, a rising star defense attorney. Tate ran her own practice in downtown Baton Rouge, and criminal defense had become her specialty. As the sun set behind the west bank of the Mississippi River, Tate plugged away behind her office desk with no plans of stopping. She was preparing for an upcoming murder trial.
Chiquita contacted her husband of a little over a year, Greg Harris, 37, to let him know she’d be working late. After hours, the doors to the building were automatically locked, and the only way to get in was with a security key card.
At around 5 A.M., though, Greg made a panicked call to 911 (clip, above). He told the operator that his wife never came home from work. He said he was outside her locked office building and he was afraid something was terribly wrong.
Officers arrived and gained access to the building. Upon entering the lawyer’s office, they encountered a ghastly scene. Chiquita Tate was lying on the floor, dead in a pool of her own blood. She had been stabbed more than three dozen times.
As police began processing the blood-soaked crime scene, they learn that Tate had been stabbed more than 30 times in her arms, torso, neck, and face. Her throat was slashed from side to side. Her office was in disarray and, due to the defensive wounds on Tate’s arms, investigators surmised it was a brutal fight to the death.
Tate was still wearing her valuable jewelry, so robbery didn’t appear to be a motive in this crime. The fact a knife was used to kill Tate lead police to believe the murder may have been a crime of passion. They first focused on the very man who had called for help — her husband, Greg Harris.
Police brought Harris to the station for an interview. Right away, they noticed something suspicious: He had small cuts on his hands. Harris explained that he worked construction and always had a few nicks and bruises because of the job.
Detectives next asked Harris to walk them through the previous night. He explained that his wife had called him and asked him to bring her some dinner, since she would be working late. He delivered a fast food meal to her, and showed them the receipt. After spending a little time with Tate at her office, he went home and fell asleep.
According to Harris, he woke up around 2 A.M. and was alarmed to see that Tate still wasn’t home. After calls to her cell phone went unanswered, Harris headed to her office, where he called the police.Harris insisted that he loved his wife and that he had nothing to do with her murder. With no direct evidence linking him to the crime so far, the police released him.
Investigators broadened their search for suspects by looking into Tate’s clients. As a defense attorney, she represented some very hardened criminals. It didn’t take long for detectives to uncover a disturbing case: two brothers charged with first-degree murder for shooting a man, then setting him on fire.
Even though Tate was trying to help the brothers, the police wondered if she may have learned some information that they felt could be used against them later. Perhaps the brothers then decided that the only way to ensure that Tate remained silent was to kill her.
As detectives worked to track down the brothers, Harris calls the police again, with shocking news: Someone had just opened fire on his home. Officers raced to the scene and discovered the house riddled with bullet holes. Harris tells them that he’s convinced whoever killed Tate is the same person who shot up his house.
Officers canvass the area, but found no sign of the shooter. While investigators were finishing up at the crime scene, the brothers wanted for questioning in Tate’s murder were located. One brother was already serving time in a Louisiana state prison. The other brother was brought in for an interview. He denied any involvement in Tate’s murder and provided a solid alibi for the night in question.
While investigators moved on from this lead, a call came in that sent the case in an entirely new direction. The tipster is a woman who identified herself as “Amber.” She claimed to have overheard a gay woman talking about killing a defense attorney who was involved in a love triangle with her.
Amber stated that she noticed scratch marks on the woman’s arms, and provided police with the woman’s name. Detectives wasted no time heading to her home and confronted her in person. She admitted to being one of Tate’s clients, and also to being in a relationship with a woman. When detectives asked her to pull up both her sleeves, she agreed. When her arms were revealed, there wasn’t a single mark on them.
The woman explained to detectives that her relationship with Tate was strictly business and that the lawyer was helping the couple to adopt a child. Tate was an advocate for them, not an adversary. At that point, detectives realized something wasn’t right about Amber’s tip.
They were able to trace the number Amber called from to an address in Dallas, Texas. When investigators called the number, an elderly woman answered. They asked to speak with Amber, and the woman put her daughter on the line.
When the daughter got on the phone, detectives thought her voice sounded exactly like that of the woman who had called in the tip. But she denied being the caller, and claimed that Amber is actually a friend of hers. She refused to divulge any other information on Amber’s whereabouts.
Detectives then ask the woman if she knew Chiquita Tate. She said she did, and admitted that she was Greg Harris’s sister. It’s a shocking revelation — investigators now believe the tip was meant to send them on a wild goose chase to possibly keep any suspicion off of Harris.
Detectives refocused their investigation on Tate’s husband. Before confronting him again, they ran a deeper background search into the couple’s history. They uncovered a police report from 2007, in which Tate accused Harris of physically assaulting her. This report included a 911 call (clip, above), in which an obviously distraught Tate was claiming that Harris was violently attacking her.Investigators also discover that Tate had signed a lease to a new apartment a month before she was murdered — it looked like the marriage was on the rocks, and Tate wanted out.
Tate’s life insurance policy was found to list Harris as a recipient of up to $60k in the result of her premature death. Armed with all of this damning new information, detectives got a warrant to search Harris’ home and vehicle. During the search, police found evidence of blood. Testing showed that it was a mixture of both Tate’s and Harris’ DNA. With the DNA evidence locked in, Greg Harris was arrested for killing his wife.He was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 40 years in prison without possibility of parole.
Harris continues to maintain his innocence, and has filed claims and applications for post-conviction relief, all of which have thus far been denied.
For more on the Chiquita Tate case, watch the “Heat of the Night” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Dead of Night on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Chiquita Tate [Juantonja Richmond]