Harmon, who lied about abduction, rape, sentenced to 8 years deferred adjudication

Jerrie Whiteley, Herald Democrat

Editor's note: This article has been updated throughout.

After a half-day sentencing hearing, Judge Rayburn Nall Jr. sentenced Breana Harmon, the Denison woman who falsely claimed she was raped in March 2017, to eight years deferred adjudication.

The special form of probation means that if Harmon successfully completes the terms set out for her, she will be able to say she has never been convicted of a felony. However, her record will always show that she pleaded guilty to one.

Harmon testified Tuesday that she wanted deferred adjudication because she wants to be a nurse and a felony conviction would prevent her from doing that. In addition to the deferred probation, Harmon must pay more than $8,000 in restitution to cover expenses Denison Police spent investigating the case. She must also pay a $2,000 fine and serve 160 hours of community service.

Harmon pleaded guilty in February to four felony charges of tampering with physical evidence and government documents.

In court Tuesday, Harmon testified that at the time of the incident at the heart of the criminal case, she was suffering from depression caused by a number of significant issues in her life, including having been forced by medical issues to terminate a pregnancy, an abusive relationship, problems with her then-current boyfriend and an impending move from the area.

She explained she first became pregnant when she was 16, and, while she hadn’t planned the pregnancy, she intended to see it through. Harmon said she had gone to the doctor months later and was given bad news. She was sent to Dallas for more tests and doctors said the pregnancy was not viable.

Harmon dabbed at tears Tuesday as she told her attorney Bob Jarvis about going through a picket line at Planned Parenthood in Dallas as people yelled things like “baby killer.” She said inside the facility she saw people she assumed were willingly planning to terminate their pregnancies, while she wished she didn’t have to do that.

The young woman said she came back home and immediately went to work on finishing high school and getting a job. She never got counseling over the loss of the pregnancy, she said, because “I thought I could handle it on my own.”

Harmon quickly earned the credits she needed to complete high school at Pathways and then got a job. She was involved in a relationship with a man who was planning to enlist in the military, she testified. She said she was happy about that but became unhappy when he started pressuring her to move with him as he started his military career. Harmon said he wanted her to give up on her dream of becoming a nurse and take her away from her family.

She then apologized both to the Denison Police Department for the work they did because of her actions and to the community at large.

Attorney reactions

After the hearing, Jarvis said his client was happy with the judge’s decision. He said the exact requirements for her probation weren’t set yet, but he expected she would have to serve some amount of community service as well as continue with counseling.

He said his client was ready to get the sentencing hearing over with and to get on with her life. At one point during the hearing, Nall had asked for an exact amount of restitution that Harmon needed to pay. Jarvis and prosecutors Nathan Young and Britton Brooks said that had yet to be agreed upon. Jarvis said he was contesting the amount the state wanted her to pay. After some discussion back and forth in and out of the courtroom, Harmon agreed to pay the amount that prosecutors first submitted to her attorney, which was $8,082.03.

Jarvis said deferred adjudication was appropriate in this case because his client didn’t have any criminal record.

“She had a baby (before the sentencing hearing), and I don’t think there is any question that she was (at the time of the incident) going through an extreme emotional experience in the 18 months prior to this happening,” Jarvis said. “The judge listened to all of the evidence and made the decision. And, everybody should respect Judge Nall’s decision, because that’s what we pay him to do.”

Young said he respects the judge’s decision but he had hoped the probation would include some jail time. He also said he expected continued counseling to be a condition of the probation. Young said he thought the amount of restitution that was ultimately settled upon was appropriate considering they had given it to the defense early on in the process.

He said he could certainly feel for Harmon and the things that she testified she was going through at the time of the offense, however, he added, that didn’t absolve her of the crimes she committed when she lied about what had happened to her. Those crimes, generally, are charged as misdemeanors.

“After reviewing the case at the District Attorney’s Office, we thought that a more substantial charge was warranted,” Young said.

He said those who were questioned in the case were asked whether they might have seen anything relative to the kidnapping but were not questioned about being involved in a sexual assault. However, Young said, he felt that the statements Harmon made were “a slap in the face” to victims of sexual assault.

How it started

Harmon was reported as a missing person on March 8 of last year, after her then-boyfriend returned to their shared apartment and found her vehicle abandoned in the parking lot and several of her belongings scattered on the ground. Denison Police later received a report that a woman matching Harmon’s description walked into New Creation Church, located at 3400 Eisenhower Pkwy. Harmon told police investigators that she was kidnapped by three black males wearing ski masks and taken to a wooded area where she was assaulted and raped by two of the three suspects. She told investigators the third suspect held her down while the incident occurred.

Harmon said she received superficial cuts and abrasions from a knife while struggling to get away from her attackers. In the report, investigators said the wounds were not consistent with those that would be inflicted by a knife in a violent struggle.

As the investigation went on, police started to notice holes in Harmon’s story. Among the discrepancies found in the investigation was that holes in a pair of jeans that were discovered at the crime scene and confirmed to belong to Harmon, did not match up with her own injuries. Additionally, a sexual assault nurse examiner advised police that there was no physical evidence of a sexual assault taking place.

On March 15, Denison Police was dispatched to the home of Harmon’s parents, who advised that she had been missing since early in the morning. Harmon left a note advising that she was fine and was “going to do what needed to be done and not to worry.” Phone records found that Harmon called a number belonging to Tyler Steele at about 3 a.m. At his residence, Steele told investigators that Harmon was hiding in his truck. She was found nearby hiding in the bushes. Harmon told investigators that she was fine and just needed a break.

The following day, Steele told investigators that Harmon was his girlfriend and that they had sex on March 15. After searching his phone, investigators found a Snapchat photo dated March 15 that showed Steele and Harmon lying in a bed. In text messages to Steele, Harmon told him that her engagement was not going well and that her parents were starting to doubt her story.

False report

On March 21, Harmon confessed to filing a false report. Harmon said she had gotten into an argument and decided to go for a walk. In follow-up interviews, Harmon said she and her then-boyfriend had been fighting recently and she knew the relationship was not going to last.

During the walk, Harmon ended up at the dilapidated house. Harmon told investigators that “things from her past started going through her head and she began cutting herself and her jeans.”

Harmon said she then began to worry that her mother would be upset with her for cutting herself and made up the story of being abducted to cover it up. When she was asked by people at the church if she had been raped, Harmon said she nodded her head without thinking because she didn’t want her mom mad at her.

In court on Tuesday, Harmon said she didn’t know why she made up the lie about the three black men. A therapist who has been treating Harmon since the incident said Harmon doesn’t seem to be a racist and seems truly remorseful for what she said.

Denison Police Investigator John Watt testified that no one was ever considered as a suspect in the Harmon case. He said police suspected she was not telling the truth from the beginning.