SEBRING — The question of whether a wife can testify against her husband in a local murder trial has been settled after both sides agreed she has no spousal privilege.

Geri Harvell, 83, will be tried for the second-degree murder of his stepson, Jason Hernandez, 43. His wife, Cathy Harvell, witnessed the shooting of her son in their home in March 2021.

On Thursday, Prosecutor Norda Swaby asked a judge to allow her to admit private discussions between Cathy Harvell and Geri Harvell leading up to the shooting. In some cases, what one spouse says to another is private, and neither side can be compelled to repeat what was said.

Defense attorney Brad Wilson, who represents Geri Harvell, agreed.

“When the husband and wife communicate in a confidential manner, it’s like attorney-client privilege,” he said. “But there are certain exceptions, involving crimes within the family, things like that.”

And that is what is alleged in this case.

After the shooting, Cathy Harvell told police that her husband had privately complained to her about her son’s presence in the house and threatened to shoot him in the weeks before the shooting.

“Your honor, it goes to the issue of the defendant’s state of mind,” Swaby argued. “The defendant had a resentment (against the son) and developed a state of rage. The defendant pulled a gun on him the first week he was in the home.”

Swaby also asked to admit the 911 call surrounding the shooting, and Wilson again did not object. In that call, Cathy Harvell told 911 operators that her husband shot her son. Such hearsay evidence is allowed under certain circumstances.

With those two matters settled, Judge Olin Shinholser told Swaby and Wilson that he preferred to let other questions of testimony and evidence be decided by a trial judge.

According to police, Geri Harvell put his bathrobe on in the bedroom and a handgun in his pocket after he heard his wife and Hernandez arguing in the living room. The stepson, who was in the kitchen cooking his meal, had sat in a large chair as his food cooked. Tension had been building since Hernandez moved in weeks earlier, according to his mother.

Cathy Harvell told police that her husband emerged from the bedroom, yelled at his son for cooking so late. The son stood up from the recliner. That’s when Geri Harvell allegedly fired.

Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada granted Harvell’s speedy trial motion on June 13 and set jury selection for July 11 at 8:30 a.m.

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