Judge Finds Involuntary Manslaughter, not Murder 2, in Vance Harris Death at Preliminary Hearing

Judge Gerald Fisher ordered the release of 25-year-old Dominique Bassil from custody today, saying that if the court’s high intensity supervision and mental health experts agreed, Bassil could live with her mother while awaiting trial.

Bassil is suspected of killing her boyfriend, Vance Harris, last weekend in their Southeast D.C. apartment. Prosecutors had sought a charge of second-degree murder in the case, but Fisher declined to find probable cause for the charge, saying that enough evidence that Bassil had acted in self-defense had been raised. Fisher instead found probable cause for the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Charging documents in the case allege that Bassil stabbed Harris during an argument. He died that same day after bleeding out of a wound to a major artery in his leg.

Bassil has told authorities that she stabbed Harris. In a videotaped interview with police, she said that during a physical argument the night of Aug. 12 and early in the morning of Aug. 13,

she ran out of the bedroom into the kitchen and picked up a twelve inch stainless steel knife off of the kitchen counter and began stabbing the victim, Harris. [Bassil] then ran out the apartment where she was caught on video throwing the knife in the trash can before going to the apartment security booth.

In court Thursday, Detective Dwayne Partman testified that, according to witnesses, the argument began earlier in the evening at Harris’ brother’s wedding. Bassil, who had not been invited, showed up at the reception wearing a white gown. Partman said Bassil was described as “stalking” Harris that night and that she was upset when she saw Harris drunk and “mingling” with other women.

Still, the two drove home together, Partman said.

Bassil told police that that night in their apartment Harris attacked her, slapping her until she ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife. She stabbed him when “he came towards me and looked like he was going to hit me again,” Bassil’s attorney, Elizabeth Mullins read from Bassil’s interview with police.

The only reason I got away is because I stabbed him,” Mullins read from the transcript.

Alone in a police department interview room that night, Mullins said, Bassil wailed, repeating again and again, “I was just trying to get him to stop beating me.”

There is no record of any domestic violence between the two, Partman said, adding that Harris’ previous girlfriends have not reported any domestic violence, either.

Absent that history, and because Harris was not armed and Bassil was not injured in the altercation, AUSA Charles Cobb said that the government rejects the theory that Bassil acted in self-defense. Cobb also said that given Harris’ large size that if he had been attempting to injure Bassil there would be evidence of that.

Said Cobb,

A six-eight, two hudred and forty five pound man could do a lot more damage than he did. There was not even a nick. Nothing that shows she was in fear for her life… Even if you go back and say, ‘well, there was a scuffle,’ that doesn’t allow you to use deadly force. She never said she was in fear for her life.

Fisher, though, disagreed with the government’s interpretation.

This is an odd case,” Fisher said. “I don’t think I can conclude at this point that there is probable cause because I can’t find intent to kill.”

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