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U.S. State Dept. reacts to Russian outrage in Fairfax County court case


Gregg MacDonald

Fairfax County Times

A recent ruling by a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge in a Purcellville boy's death is fast developing into a potential international incident.

On Dec. 17, Judge R. Terence Ney handed down a not-guilty verdict in the case of Purcellville resident Miles Harrison, 49.

Harrison had been charged with involuntary manslaughter after his 21-month-old adopted son was found dead in an unattended vehicle in Herndon on July 8. The high temperature that day was 91 degrees.

The child, originally named Dmitry Yakolev and later renamed Chase Harrison, was adopted from Russia at a cost to Miles and Carol Harrison of about $80,000. At the time of his death, the toddler was still a Russian citizen, according to the Russian Embassy.

"He would have remained a Russian citizen until he reached legal age, at which time he could renounce his citizenship if he chose," said Yevgeniy Khorishko, press secretary for the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. "It is just awful that the person who killed this child has been pardoned," Khorishko added.

On Dec. 18, Russia's Foreign Ministry condemned Harrison's acquittal in an official statement.

"We are deeply angered by the verdict of the Fairfax Circuit Court in Virginia," it stated. “We consider it to be repulsive and unprecedented, even if in this case -- unlike in others -- it was criminal negligence that led to a tragic outcome, rather than deliberate ill-treatment. The decision of a judge, who did not see the crime in Harrison’s actions and released him without any penalty, goes beyond any legal and moral framework.”

The U.S. State Department replied the same day by stating: "The death of Chase Harrison is a terrible tragedy. Yesterday's decision by the Fairfax Circuit Court can not change that tragedy. Sadly this has happened to other children and parents and they are regularly warned about the dangers of leaving their children in vehicles. Chase Harrison's father will have to live with this mistake for the rest of his life. The state brought manslaughter charges against him and prosecuted this case aggressively. The judge decided to acquit based on the facts. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that it would like to discuss practical steps to ease their concerns. We welcome the opportunity to discuss with the ministry measures to prevent tragedies of this kind."

On Dec. 17, Ney ruled that although Harrison was "plainly negligent," he did not display "negligence so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a callous disregard for human life," one of the standards that define involuntary manslaughter in Virginia.

Harrison has said that he was deeply concerned that day about a contract that his office was negotiating with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The contract was the largest government contract that his company, Project Solutions Group in Herndon, had ever pursued.

In court, Ney said Harrison was "clueless" and "oblivious" that the child had been left in the vehicle, and that Harrison believed him to be at a day care facility in Ashburn.

Ney called that belief "tragic and erroneous" but called Harrison a "dutiful and devoted father." He said that "the only atonement can take place in his heart and soul." He added that "no finding of involuntary manslaughter will bring this child back to life."

But outraged Russian officials are demanding that the United States toughen its policies toward adopted children's rights, and they are reconsidering the way adoptions to the United States are handled.

Alina Levitskaya, head of the Russian Ministry of Education and Science's child welfare department, said on the ministry's Web site that Ney's ruling in the Harrison case "will lead to a tightening of requirements for the adoption of Russian children by U.S. Citizens."

Khorishko told the Times, "People in Moscow are now thinking about changing the rules of adoption for Russian children if the country they go to cannot provide protection for them, and the person who kills them is let go as if he is innocent."

2008 Dec 24