Charles Harrelson

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Charles Harrelson
Charles Harrelson mug shot, May 1960
Charles Voyde Harrelson

(1938-07-23)July 23, 1938
DiedMarch 15, 2007(2007-03-15) (aged 68)
Occupation Hitman
Criminal statusDeceased
  • Nancy Hillman Harrelson
  • Diane Lou Oswald
    (m. Feb 1959; div. 1964)
  • Jo Ann Harrelson
  • Gina Adelle Foster
Parent(s)Voyde and Alma Harrelson
Criminal charge
  • Armed robbery:
    (convicted 1960)
  • Murder:
    (acquitted September 22, 1970)
  • Murder:
    (convicted August 12, 1973)
  • Murder:
    (convicted May 29, 1979)
Penalty1960: 5 years (served months)
1973: 15 years (served 5)
1979: 2 life sentences

Charles Voyde Harrelson (July 23, 1938 – March 15, 2007) [1] was an American organized crime figure who was convicted of assassinating federal judge John H. Wood Jr., the first federal judge to have been killed in the 20th century. He was the father of actor Woody Harrelson. [2]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the most populous city is New York City. Most of the country is located contiguously in North America between Canada and Mexico.

Organized crime Groupings of highly centralized criminal enterprises

Organized crime is a category of transnational, national, or local groupings of highly centralized enterprises run by criminals who intend to engage in illegal activity, most commonly for profit. Some criminal organizations, such as terrorist groups, are politically motivated. Sometimes criminal organizations force people to do business with them, such as when a gang extorts money from shopkeepers for "protection". Gangs may become disciplined enough to be considered organized. A criminal organization or gang can also be referred to as a mafia, mob, ring, or syndicate; the network, subculture and community of criminals may be referred to as the underworld. European sociologists define the mafia as a type of organized crime group that specializes in the supply of extra-legal protection and quasi law enforcement. Gambetta's classic work on the Sicilian Mafia generates an economic study of the mafia, which exerts great influence on studies of the Russian Mafia, the Chinese Mafia, Hong Kong Triads and the Japanese Yakuza.

John Howland Wood Jr. was an American lawyer and judge from Texas. He served as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas before being assassinated by Charles Harrelson outside Wood's home in San Antonio, in 1979. Wood's killing was the first assassination of a federal judge in the 20th century.


Personal life

Charles Harrelson was born on July 23, 1938, in Lovelady, Texas, [3] the son of Alma Lee (née Sparks) (1907–2002) and Voyde Harrelson (1901–1976). He was married to Nancy Hillman Harrelson, Diane Lou Oswald, Jo Ann Harrelson and Gina Adelle Foster. Harrelson worked as an encyclopedia salesman in California and as a professional gambler. In 1960, he was convicted of armed robbery.

Lovelady, Texas City in Texas, United States

Lovelady is a town in Houston County, Texas, United States. The population was 649 at the 2010 census.

Harrelson's son, Woody Harrelson (born July 23, 1961), became a television and film actor. According to Woody, his father disappeared from the family's home in Houston in 1968, leaving his wife Diane to raise Woody and his two brothers. Woody lost track of his father until 1981, when news broke of Harrelson's arrest for the murder of Judge Wood. During an interview in November 1988, Woody revealed that he visited his father regularly in federal prison, though he still harbored mixed feelings for him, saying "my father is one of the most articulate, well-read, charming people I've ever known. Still, I'm just now gauging whether he merits my loyalty or friendship. I look at him as someone who could be a friend more than someone who was a father." [4]

Woody Harrelson American actor

Woodrow Tracy Harrelson is an American actor and playwright. His breakout role came in 1985 as bartender Woody Boyd in the television sitcom Cheers. He later became known for his portrayals of Billy Hoyle in White Men Can't Jump (1992), Mickey Knox in Natural Born Killers (1994), and Larry Flynt in The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996). More recent roles include Tallahassee in Zombieland (2009), Capt. Tony Stone in The Messenger (2009), Dave Brown in Rampart (2011), Charlie Frost in 2012 (2009), Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games film series (2012–2015), Merritt McKinney in the Now You See Me film series (2013–2016), the Colonel in War for the Planet of the Apes (2017), Rex Walls in The Glass Castle (2017), Bill Willoughby in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Tobias Beckett in Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and Maney Gault in The Highwaymen (2019).

Murder of Alan Berg

Defended by Percy Foreman, Harrelson was tried for the May 28, 1968 [5] murder of Alan Harry Berg (no relation to the Denver talk radio DJ Alan Berg, later murdered by white supremacists). [6] [7] On September 22, 1970, he was acquitted by a jury in Angleton, Texas. [8] The murder is chronicled in the memoir Run Brother Run by the victim's brother, David Berg. [9]

Percy Eugene Foreman was a criminal defense attorney from Houston, Texas. Foreman was born near Bold Springs, Texas. Foreman moved to Livingston, Texas when he was six years old. He was the son of Ransom Parson Hill Foreman and William Pinckney (Rogers) Foreman, a former sheriff of Polk County, Texas. Percy Foreman attended Staunton Military Academy in Virginia for one year, graduated from the University of Texas Law School in 1927, and was admitted to the Texas Bar on January 17, 1928. He went on to become one of the best known trial lawyers in Texas, with the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association creating the Percy Foreman Lawyer of the Year Award in 1984.

Alan Berg American attorney and talk radio show host

Alan Harrison Berg was an American attorney and talk radio show host in Denver, Colorado. Berg was known for his liberal, outspoken viewpoints and confrontational interview style. On June 18, 1984, Berg was fatally shot by members of the white nationalist group The Order. Those involved in the killing were identified as part of a group planning to kill prominent Jews such as Berg. Two of them, David Lane and Bruce Pierce, were convicted on charges of civil rights violations, although neither was charged with homicide. They were sentenced to 190 years and 252 years in prison, respectively.

Angleton, Texas City in Texas, United States

Angleton is a city in and the county seat of Brazoria County, Texas, United States, within the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan area. Angleton lies at the intersection of State Highway 288, State Highway 35, and the Union Pacific Railroad. The population was 18,862 at the 2010 census. Angleton is in the 14th congressional district, and is represented by Republican Congressman Randy Weber.

Murder of Sam Degelia

Harrelson was tried for the 1968 murder-for-hire killing of Sam Degelia Jr., a resident of Hearne, Texas. Harrelson was paid $2,000 ($14,500 in 2019) for the murder of Degelia, a grain dealer and father of four who was killed in McAllen, Texas. [10] His first trial ended with a deadlocked jury, [10] although Pete Scamardo was also tried in the case, found guilty of being an accomplice to the murder, [11] and sentenced to seven years' probation. [12] [13] Harrelson was retried in 1973, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. [14] In 1978, after serving five years, he was released early for good behavior. [14]

Hearne, Texas City in Texas, United States

Hearne is a city in Robertson County, Texas, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 4,459. The city is named for a family that settled in the area in the 19th century and promoted the construction of rail lines through the city.

McAllen, Texas City in Texas, United States

McAllen is the largest city in Hidalgo County, Texas, United States, and the 22nd-most populous city in Texas. It is located at the southern tip of the state in the Rio Grande Valley. The city limits extend south to the Rio Grande, across from the Mexican city of Reynosa, and McAllen is about 70 mi (110 km) west of the Gulf of Mexico. As of 2017, McAllen’s population was estimated to be 142,696. It is the fifth-most populous metropolitan area (McAllen–Edinburg–Mission) in the state of Texas, and the binational Reynosa–McAllen metropolitan area counts a population of nearly 1.52 million.

Murder of Judge John H. Wood Jr.

Shortly after Harrelson was paroled in 1978, he and his then-wife, Jo Ann, were implicated in another murder. On May 29, 1979, U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr. was shot dead in the parking lot outside his San Antonio, Texas townhouse. [15] Harrelson was convicted of killing Judge Wood after being hired by drug dealer Jamiel Chagra of El Paso, Texas. Wood—nicknamed "Maximum John" because of his reputation for handing down long sentences for drug offenses—was originally scheduled to have Chagra appear before him on the day of his murder, but the trial had been delayed. [16]

United States district court type of court of the United States federal court system

The United States district courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. Both civil and criminal cases are filed in the district court, which is a court of law, equity, and admiralty. There is a United States bankruptcy court associated with each United States district court. Each federal judicial district has at least one courthouse, and many districts have more than one. The formal name of a district court is "the United States District Court for" the name of the district—for example, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

San Antonio City in Texas, United States

San Antonio, officially the City of San Antonio, is the seventh-most populous city in the United States, and the second-most populous city in both Texas and the Southern United States, with more than 1.5 million residents. Founded as a Spanish mission and colonial outpost in 1718, the city became the first chartered civil settlement in present-day Texas in 1731. The area was still part of the Spanish Empire, and later of the Mexican Republic. Today it is the state's oldest municipality, having celebrated its 300th anniversary on May 1, 2018.

Texas U.S. state in the United States

Texas is the second largest state in the United States by area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, and has a coastline with the Gulf of Mexico to the southeast.

Harrelson was apprehended with the aid of an anonymous tip and a tape recording of a conversation that occurred during a visit from Joe Chagra to his brother Jamiel Chagra in prison. Harrelson claimed at trial that he did not kill Judge Wood, but merely took credit for it so he could claim a large payment from Chagra.

Harrelson was sentenced to two life terms based largely on Chagra's conversation with his brother from prison. Both Harrelson and Joe Chagra were implicated in the assassination, and Chagra received a ten-year sentence. Jamiel Chagra was acquitted of the murder when his brother Joe refused to testify against him. Chagra was represented by future mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman, then a public defender. In a plea bargain, Jamiel Chagra admitted to his role in the murder of Judge Wood and to the attempted murder of a U.S. Attorney. Harrelson's wife, Jo Ann, was sentenced to consecutive terms of 20 years total on multiple convictions of conspiracy and perjury related to the assassination. [17]

In 2003, Chagra recanted his previous statements, stating that someone other than Harrelson had shot Judge Wood. [18] His son, Woody, then attempted to have his father's conviction overturned in order to secure a new trial, though without success. [19] Chagra died in July 2008 of cancer. [20]

Allegations of involvement in the assassination of John F. Kennedy

In September 1980, Harrelson surrendered to police after a six-hour standoff in which he was reportedly high on cocaine. [21] [22] During the standoff, he threatened suicide, stating that he had killed both Judge Wood and President John F. Kennedy. [21] [23] In a television interview after his arrest, Harrelson said: "At the same time I said I had killed the judge, I said I had killed Kennedy, which might give you an idea to the state of my mind at the time." He said that the statements made during the standoff were "an effort to elongate my life." [24]

Joseph Chagra later testified during Harrelson's trial that Harrelson claimed to have shot Kennedy and drew maps to show where he was hiding during the assassination. Chagra said that he did not believe Harrelson's claim, and the AP reported that the FBI "apparently discounted any involvement by Harrelson in the Kennedy assassination." [25] According to Jim Marrs in 1989's Crossfire, Harrelson is believed to be the youngest and tallest of the "three tramps" by many conspiracy theorists. [22] Marrs stated that Harrelson was involved "with criminals connected to intelligence agencies and the military" and suggested that he was connected to Jack Ruby through Russell Douglas Matthews, a third party with links to organized crime who was known to both Harrelson and Ruby. [23] Lois Gibson, a well-known forensic artist, matched photographs of Harrelson to the photographs of the youngest-looking of the three "tramps". [26] [27]

Escape attempt

ADX Florence, where Harrelson was transferred after his escape attempt Florence ADMAX.jpg
ADX Florence, where Harrelson was transferred after his escape attempt

On July 4, 1995, Harrelson and two other inmates, Gary Settle and Michael Rivers, attempted to escape from the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary using a makeshift rope. A warning shot was fired at them from the prison's tower, and the trio surrendered. [28] Harrelson was subsequently transferred to Supermax prison ADX Florence in Florence, Colorado. In a letter to a friend, Harrelson wrote that he enjoyed his life inside the maximum security facility, writing that "there are not enough hours in a day for my needs as a matter of fact... The silence is wonderful." [29]


On March 15, 2007, Harrelson was found dead in his cell, having died at the age of 68 of a heart attack. [2] [30] His Federal Bureau of Prisons Register number was 02582-016. [31]

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