HOUSTON -- Convicted hit man Charles Harrelson, a suspect in the 1979 slaying of U.S. District Judge John Wood, was convicted Thursday of being an ex-felon in possession of guns and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The 10-man, two-woman jury took 70 minutes to convict Harrelson and also gave him the maximun sentence of 20 years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.
Harrelson, who served five years for a 1968 contract killing, was arrested on Feb. 1, 1980, in his car, which contained two .38-caliber pistols, a .357 pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun with folding stock and a Weatherby .300 high-powered rifle with telescopic sight.
The jury took 10 minutes to answer the prosecution's call for the maximum possible penalty -- which was doubled from 10 years and a $5,000 fine because Harrelson had a prior firearms conviction. The gun charges were unrelated to the Wood killing.
The defense indicated Harrelson will appeal, but lead defense lawyer Bob Tarrant angrily refused further comment.
Before the guilty verdict was read, Harrelson mouthed 'write to me' to his wife, Jo Ann, in the audience. Neither she no Harrelson had visible reaction to the guilty verdict. She told reporters: 'I'm not surprised.' She did not attend the sentencing hearing.
Prosecutor Ted Wilson said: 'We're pleased with the verdict. I was not surprised. Apparently the jury was satisfied with the evidence they heard.'
In their final arguments, Wilson and co-prosecutor Bill Eggleston argued Harrelson knowingly violated Texas law against ex-felons possessing guns. Defense lawyers maintained Harrelson was framed by police and the informant.
State and federal agents testified they found the guns after stopping Harrelson's car in Houston on an unnamed informant's tip. Department of Public Safety agent Lee Pagel said Harrelson later told him he always carried a gun.
Harrelson testified the guns were not his and he did not know they were in the car when he drove it.
He said a friend, Hampton Robinson III, who failed to show up to testify, had driven the car. He suggested someone, possibly federal agents, had planted the guns so he could be arrested. He denied telling Pagel he carried a gun.
Robinson, wealthy son of a Houston surgeon and a South Texas oil and land heiress, faces trial next Monday on a murder charge in the shooting of a drug dealer. His lawyer, Jim Tatum, had said he would testify the guns were his.
The only indictment so far in the federal investigation into Wood's death came in Dallas Sept. 1 against Mrs. Harrelson. She is free on $25,000 bond charged with using false identification to buy a rifle like that used on Wood.