Mistrial declared in Tennessee man's sex case

URBANA — U.S. District Court Judge Michael McCuskey late Thursday morning declared a mistrial in the case of a Tennessee man accused of trying to electronically lure a Champaign teen to have sex with him.

In a drama-filled morning in the Urbana courtroom, Joseph C. Harrison, 36, interrupted his testimony to declare he was going to faint.

Harrison, a blond with very fair skin, got so white while in the witness chair that a juror who is a nurse was moved to suggest that he get his head between his knees.

McCuskey then recessed the trial, and Harrison was removed from the courtroom. He then collapsed in a hallway just outside the courtroom in front of the federal marshals who were taking him to lie down.

Harrison's decision to testify was a surprise because on Wednesday he had indicated through his attorney, Assistant U.S. Public Defender John Taylor, that he would not testify. Thursday morning, he told the judge he had changed his mind and launched into a rambling, sometimes incoherent monologue about his youth.

Harrison had been on the stand a little more than 30 minutes and was being cross-examined by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elly Peirson when he declared he was "having issues."

He was taken by ambulance to the hospital while the judge and the attorneys discussed how to proceed.

Over the strenuous objections of Peirson, McCuskey declared the mistrial. He ordered that after Harrison is released from the hospital, he be taken to a federal medical institution for further physical and psychological evaluation.

Jurors were picked on Monday to hear the trial, which centered on Harrison meeting a then-12-year-old Champaign girl in an online gaming site in November 2011 and developing an inappropriate electronic relationship with her that culminated in him coming to Champaign and meeting her in January 2012. Jurors had heard two full days of testimony and were expected to decide the case Thursday.

Harrison is charged with enticement of a minor, traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct with a minor, and doing those things as a registered sex offender.

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