The Broward State Attorney’s Office filed court documents earlier this year asking a judge to reverse the conviction and sentence of a man who pleaded no contest to the 1983 murder of Regina Harrison in Hollywood.
In January 1985, Ronald Henry Stewart (DOB 3/10/1960) pleaded no contest to the second- degree murder of Regina Harrison (DOB 4/30/1963). Stewart is deceased.
On the murder case, Stewart was sentenced to serve his prison term to run at the same time as the eight 50-year prison terms he was already serving for numerous unrelated rapes that occurred in the early 1980s in Broward County, Florida, and Harrison County, Mississippi.
He was sentenced to 50 years of concurrent time for the murder. Stewart was not prosecuted for several other sexual batteries that he was suspected of committing in Broward County.
Stewart became a suspect in the Hollywood murder after he had confessed, pleaded guilty and was already serving three 50-year state prison sentences for the unrelated series of rapes in Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park and while he was awaiting sentencing on the series of rapes in the Gulfport, Mississippi area. Those rapes all occurred in the early 1980s.
On June 8, 1983, Fort Lauderdale police arrested Stewart for the Broward rapes, after he was seen attempting to break into a home in the city. The city had launched a special task force to try to identify and arrest the man responsible for a series of rapes in Fort Lauderdale and Oakland Park, which at the time had its own police department. The attacker was dubbed “The Victoria Park Rapist.”
After his arrest, Stewart confessed to several of the nine rapes he was suspected of committing in Broward County. One of the rape victims identified Stewart in a live lineup and his confessions contained details that independently corroborated the accounts provided by two more victims, investigators said.
Stewart swiftly pleaded guilty to three counts of sexual battery with the use of a deadly weapon in Broward County. As part of the plea agreements in those three Florida rape cases, Broward prosecutors agreed not to pursue or file charges in six additional Broward sexual battery cases about which he had been questioned. On June 30, 1983, Stewart was sentenced to 50 years in state prison on each of the three rapes, with an agreement that he would serve all three sentences concurrently or at the same time.
Broward prosecutors also agreed to let Stewart serve his Florida prison terms at the same time as he was serving multiple 50-year prison terms in Mississippi for five sexual battery offenses and related burglaries and robberies he pleaded guilty to committing in Mississippi in the early 1980s. He was sentenced for the Mississippi crimes in 1984.
In February 2007, Mississippi sent him back to Florida and he died of cancer in state prison in September 2008. He spent most of his time in incarceration in the Mississippi state prison system where he had asked to serve his punishment so that he could be closer to his family. (For clarity, Stewart’s convictions and sentences for the three unrelated Broward sexual battery offenses and
five Mississippi sexual battery offenses remain intact.)
The Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Hollywood Police Department and the Broward State Attorney’s Office reopened the Harrison murder investigation in November 2018 when new evidence came to light that raised questions and concerns about Stewart’s conviction for the murder. After examining the new information and testing DNA evidence in the case, officials from all three agencies agreed that the appropriate course of action was to ask a judge to vacate or reverse Stewart’s conviction and sentence for murder.
DNA testing, completed by the Broward Sheriff’s Office lab in February 2019, shows Harrison was raped and killed by Jack Harold Jones (DOB 08/10/1964). Jones previously admitted he killed two other women, one in Fort Lauderdale in 1991 and one in Arkansas in 1995.
The DNA test results mean that Jones, who was executed by the state of Arkansas in August 2017, is now considered a serial killer because he murdered at least three women in separate incidents spanning more than a dozen years. Broward Sheriff’s Office Detective John Curcio is working with other law enforcement agencies around the nation to try to determine if Jones killed other victims.
Jones was executed for the June 6, 1995 murder of a woman in Bald Knob, Arkansas. In that case, Jones raped and strangled Mary Phillips, 34, in the accounting office where she worked.
Jones also severely beat the woman’s 11-year-old daughter and left her for dead. The girl survived and her description of the killer swiftly led police to Jones, who confessed to the Phillips murder.
In 2003, long after Jones was arrested and imprisoned in Arkansas, he was forensically linked to the May 1991 murder of a woman at a hotel on Fort Lauderdale beach. The victim in that case was Lorraine “Lori” Anne Barrett, 32, a tourist from Pennsylvania who was raped, beaten and strangled in her hotel room while on vacation.
In 2005, Jones pleaded guilty at arraignment to the 1991 murder of Barrett in Fort Lauderdale. (Barrett murder case number 05003156CF10A.) He was sentenced to life in prison without any chance of parole. He was promptly returned from Broward County to Death Row in Arkansas to await execution.
The reinvestigation of Regina Harrison’s murder began when a written confession to the slaying was turned over to Curcio in November 2018 – more than 35 years after the May 2, 1983 murder.
The confession was contained in a four-page letter that Jones wrote to his sister years before he was executed. Jones wrote the letter in 2006 or 2007 but told his sister not to read it until at least one year after he had been executed. Jones told his sister to try to track down Harrison’s family herself or to pass along the letter to Curcio, whose nickname is Mongo.
Below is a transcript of the hand-written letter:
Jones had gotten to know and trust Curcio when Curcio was a homicide detective for the Fort Lauderdale police department and was working on cold cases. Curcio’s work led to DNA testing of evidence in the murder of Barrett, which implicated Jones. While Curcio was investigating the Barrett murder, Jones told the detective that he had killed another person and promised he would eventually identify the victim. Jones stayed in touch with Curcio and even sent him a painting from Death Row in Arkansas.
We do not know why Jones chose to confess to the murders of Barrett and Phillips while he was alive but delayed the release of his confession to the Harrison murder until after his execution. Jones left South Florida shortly after the Harrison murder and returned to his native Ohio. He later returned to South Florida and murdered Barrett. Later still, he murdered Phillips in Arkansas.
Curcio promptly notified Hollywood police and the Broward State Attorney’s Office about Jones’ written confession to the murder of Harrison. DNA testing at the Broward Sheriff’s Office lab linked evidence from Harrison’s body to Jones.
After reviewing all of the evidence, the Broward State Attorney’s Office, the Hollywood Police Department and the Broward Sheriff’s Office have determined that Jones was responsible for the murder of Harrison and Stewart was not. Officials from all three agencies agreed that the appropriate course of action was to ask a judge to vacate or reverse the conviction and sentence of Stewart. Unfortunately, no further action can be taken against Jones because he was executed prior to this discovery.
Regina Harrison’s parents reported her missing, days after her 20th birthday, when she did not return to her Dania (now Dania Beach) home after a bicycle ride. Witnesses reported she was last seen alive riding her bicycle north on Hollywood’s Broadwalk on May 2, 1983. She was accompanied by a male cyclist. Searchers found her body the following day in Hollywood’s West Lake Park. Evidence showed she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Nearby were her neatly folded clothes, her bicycle, a backpack and some religious pamphlets that she liked to distribute. Harrison, a student at Palm Beach Atlantic Junior College and a racquetball enthusiast, had come home partly to celebrate her 20 th birthday with family and to interview for a job.
After Stewart was arrested on the Broward rapes, someone contacted Hollywood police in July 1983 and said that Stewart resembled the composite sketch. The witness later picked out Stewart from a photo lineup of six photos. Stewart was questioned but denied any role in the murder.
Later on, inmates who were locked up with Stewart contacted investigators and prosecutors and said that Stewart had told them he was responsible for the murder of Harrison and that he had provided details of the crime to them. Stewart declined to take a polygraph test offered by prosecutors prior to his no-contest plea but failed a polygraph test administered by the defense,
according to court records. He continued to deny any role in the murder.
On March 22, 1984, a grand jury indicted Stewart on a first-degree murder charge for the homicide of Regina Harrison.
Some of the evidence against Stewart included information from witnesses who briefly saw Harrison with the man believed to be her killer. One of the women who saw them on Hollywood beach provided a description and helped a police artist to compile a composite sketch of the suspect, which she rated as a “9 or 10” for accuracy on a scale of one to 10. The sketch was distributed in the community and via local media outlets. Hollywood police pursued several leads.
Stewart pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of second-degree murder on Jan. 28, 1985. He was sentenced to 50 years in state prison, which would also be served at the same time as his sentences for the Florida rapes.
Court records show that Stewart never challenged his no-contest plea in the murder case on the grounds that it was not voluntarily entered and that he never filed any post-conviction filing alleging that he was not guilty of the murder of Regina Harrison. He also never filed any motions or appeals attacking his convictions, guilt or the voluntariness of his pleas in the three Broward rape cases.
DNA testing was not available in 1983 when Regina Harrison was murdered and was not generally available for forensic use at the time when Stewart pleaded no contest to the murder charge. Ronald Stewart would not have been charged with murder if DNA testing had been available at the time and he would not have been prosecuted for the murder if DNA testing had been available at the time.
Ronald Stewart was not responsible for the murder of Regina Harrison. Although Stewart is now deceased, it is appropriate that the record be corrected at this time to reflect the results of the new information and evidence uncovered since November 2018. It is also important to try to determine if Jones killed other victims.
Broward prosecutors have asked for Stewart’s 1985 murder conviction to be vacated. The Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Hollywood Police Department regret the roles that our agencies played in Stewart’s conviction for the murder of Regina Harrison. We also regret that the evidence and tips led to the wrong suspect, who pleaded no contest to the murder. Even though Stewart was sentenced to serve all of his prison terms for the murder and the eight rapes concurrently, or at the same time, we regret that he pleaded no contest to a murder he did not commit and that this diverted attention from the real killer.
We are grateful that advances in forensic techniques allowed the Broward Sheriff’s Office, the Broward State Attorney’s Office and the Hollywood Police Department to set the record straight.
The Hollywood Police Department and Broward State Attorney’s Office did not, and will not, hesitate to investigate credible claims of innocence or new information presented to our agencies.
Since 2001, the State Attorney’s Office has offered to conduct DNA testing in these types of closed cases.
The Harrison murder case number is 84003235CF10A. Hollywood Detective James Gibbons (deceased), then-Assistant State Attorney Kelly Hancock, then-Special Assistant Public Defender Robert C. Stone and then-Broward Circuit Judge Barry Stone handled the murder case.
The pending motion is assigned to Broward Circuit Judge Marina Garcia-Wood.
If you have questions, please contact: Broward State Attorney’s Office PIO: 954-831-7910; Hollywood Police PIO: 954-967-4279; or Broward Sheriff’s Office PIO: 954-831-8300.