Former SMS principal convicted

Published 8:23 am Wednesday, April 8, 2009

CHESTERFIELD—A jury in Chesterfield Circuit Court found a former Southampton Middle School principal guilty on four felony counts of carnal knowledge.

On Friday, jurors recommended that Claude Andrew Harris, 36, be sentenced to four years in prison and pay $2,000 in restitution. He could face up to 20 years in prison. Harris will be formally sentenced in June.

Harris, the former principal of Joseph T. Mastin High School, which is located at the Bon Air Juvenile Correctional Center, was convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old female inmate.

According to WTVR-TV coverage of the trial, prosecutors said Harris — a married father of two — abused his power as principal and preyed on the inmate. Teachers testified for the prosecution that Harris took the victim out of classes for what was perceived as preferential treatment. The teachers also said they found Harris with the victim in locked areas at the school. Defense attorneys argued that Harris did nothing wrong, and tried to persuade the jury not to believe the victim because she is a convicted murderer.

WTVR-TV also reported the victim testified she had a months-long relationship with Harris in 2007. She used a calendar to show the jury the dates and places within the school she said she had sex with him, and also showed jurors love letters and a charm pendant she said Harris sent her. The victim said the affair with Harris started after she made him a Valentine’s Day card and gave him a kiss after a losing a bet.

After the verdict, Judge Frederick G. Rockwell III revoked Harris’ $15,000 bond and he was taken into custody. WTVR-TV said Harris stared straight ahead in disbelief when Rockwell read the verdict, and his family sobbed openly in court. Family and friends declined to comment afterwards.

Harris was the principal of Southampton Middle School from 2002-05.