The question before 12 jurors was a simple one: Did a homeless man assault his homeless girlfriend in west Modesto one warm spring night 17 months ago?
But the consequences to Buddy Ray Gary, who was found guilty of a single felony Wednesday afternoon after a one-day trial in Stanislaus County Superior Court, are far more significant.
Gary is a nine-time felon who was released from a program for sexually violent predators six months before a police officer found him carrying Pennie Harrison's limp body into a trash-strewn alley between Maple Street and Maze Boulevard.
The rapes of two elderly women made Gary eligible for an involuntary commitment to Atascadero State Hospital, which stretched over nine years. According to court records, he refused treatment and gained his freedom when psychologists couldn't agree if his crimes were opportunistic or predatory.
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The latest guilty verdict may end that debate because Gary, 56, could receive a sentence of 25 years to life under California's "three strikes, you're out" law. Judge Hurl Johnson is expected to hold a hearing today to determine if any of Gary's prior convictions should count as strikes.
Gary's trial revolved around a handful of witnesses, including a woman who said she heard screaming shortly after 1 a.m. on June 2, 2006.
Tabatha Tittle told the court she looked out her bedroom window, saw Gary slam Harrison's head into the blacktop two times, then ran outside to help. Within minutes, Tittle was on the phone with a 911 dispatcher, simultaneously calling for help and trying to stop the fight.
"He's trying to kill her," Tittle screamed, according to a tape- recorded call that was played for the jury. "Get off her. Leave her alone. Leave her alone. Leave her alone. Let her go."
Tittle said Gary hit Harrison in the head with a beer bottle, choked her until she was nearly unconscious, dragged her by her hair, then lifted her up and started carrying her into the alley.
Put her down after 2nd warning
Tittle was waving and pointing when Modesto police officer Derrick Tyler arrived about 1:10 a.m. The officer said Gary kept walking when he was ordered to put Harrison down, but relented after a second warning at gunpoint.
"She was limp. Her arms and legs were dangling. Her head was dangling. She appeared to be passed out," Tyler said.
The officer arrested Gary, then tended to Harrison, who was curled up in a fetal position, trembling and crying. Her clothes were wet because she had been dumped in a gutter. She had scratches on her face and arms and legs, and lumps on the back of her head.
Harrison, who choked back tears during her testimony, said she could not recall much of the attack.
Eight women and two men on the jury -- who didn't hear anything about Gary's past -- deliberated for less than an hour before they found Gary guilty of assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury.
Gary has been in custody, held in lieu of $250,000 bail, since his arrest. Shortly before his Dec. 12, 2005, release from Atascadero, one psychologist told the court Gary had a 39 percent chance of offending again within five years.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2338.