Lawrence Harrison

Lawrence Harrison's picture on a monument at the Victims' Rights March on the State Capitol in Sacramento.

Contributed by Cynthia Craddock Biletnikoff

Every day, 82-year-old Lawrence Harrison would show up at the McDonald's drive-thru to buy a hamburger and Coke that he'd share with his dog, E.T. Then they'd sit in the parking lot together, the dog drinking soda from a bowl while his master ate and hand fed him half the hamburger.

E.T. was Harrison’s trusted companion, and it was E.T. who survived with a bloody eye and broken ribs while his master was stabbed 63 times and left for dead on the living room floor of his southwest Hanford home in 1992.

The brutality and senselessness of the crime shocked the community.

Cynthia Craddock Biletnikoff had just turned 26 when this happened to her great-grandfather, and still reels from the memories of the crime. She said her great-grandfather was a kind, loving human being who would never hurt anybody.

“Everyone that knew him, loved him,” Biletnikoff said. “I’ve never heard an unkind word about him.”

Phillip Clark Watts was found guilty and sentenced to 25 years to life back in 1993. In 2011, Watts was considered for parole release from California State Prison, Solano in Vacaville, and Harrison’s family rallied with petition signatures and letters to keep him in prison.

His parole was denied in 2011, but on Dec. 21, Watts will once again be considered for release during a parole hearing; and Biletnikoff is leading the charge in making sure he never gets out.

She’s once again gathering letters and has started an online petition that has garnered thousands of signatures on Harrison’s behalf, as well as support from several victims’ advocate organizations.

Harrison was well loved by locals, Biletnikoff said. A retired heavy-duty diesel mechanic, he grew up in Texas and loved to fish and hunt. His friends called him "Hoss," and he was known as a fix-it man.

Biletnikoff remembers fondly wondering how her great-grandfathers pants never fell down, because they always seemed full to the brim with change that would reach into and give her a handful of every time he saw her.

Police had said they believed Harrison and Watts knew each other casually before the murder. They'd met while Watts was visiting relatives in the Ogden Street neighborhood Harrison called home.

Then one night Harrison was out watering his garden when the suspect snuck through the open front door into his home. Harrison's dog may have barked, or maybe he heard a noise that alerted him to something going on inside his home.

Investigators later found the hose still running in the backyard, flooding the grass with water.

Harrison was struck several times in the face and knocked to the floor. The suspect demanded money. Harrison apparently gave him a Bible he kept some spare cash in.

Investigators speculated that maybe he insulted the suspect when he handed it over. The book was found discarded next to his body.

The events that followed spilled several pints of blood on the floor. Snubbed-out cigarettes were found nearby, suggesting the killer took his time. Biletnikoff said they fought for around three hours before Harrison succumbed to the last three stab wounds.

The killer got away with $1,800 in government checks and cash.

Neighbors noticed the garage and front door standing open and called police around 3 a.m.

The discovery sparked a three-month search that ended with Watts' arrest.

But his arrest and subsequent conviction one year later was not enough for the victim's grieving family.

Harrison's wounds had been so severe that his own relatives barely recognized him, forcing them to give him a closed-casket funeral. Biletnikoff said she heard the murder was one of the most heinous and brutal in Kings County history.

Watts and his family have repeatedly denied his involvement in the murder. When he was sentenced in 1993, family members told The Sentinel that the wrong man had been convicted.

During the 2011 parole hearing, Hanford Police Chief Parker Sever (he was a captain back then) personally wrote a letter to the parole board requesting they deny the release. Sever could not be reached for comment Friday, but Biletnikoff said he has written another letter for the upcoming hearing.

Biletnikoff said The Kings County District Attorney's Office will also send a representative to the hearing to speak out against Watts.

Biletnikoff said she was obviously relieved when Watt’s parole was denied the first time, but said she knew in the back of her mind that the day would come when she would have to face the man convicted of her great-grandfather’s murder once again.

She called the first experience “horrific” and remembers being terrified and in shock the entire time. She said the entire ordeal brought back a form of post-traumatic stress disorder after reliving the events.

As much as Harrison’s family want justice for him, Biletnikoff said she also wants to keep society safe by not having Watts walking around free.

“There are no winners or losers in this,” Biletnikoff said. “Nothing will ever really change or bring my grandfather back.”

The reporter can be reached at 583-2423 or jzavala@hanfordsentinel.com

News Reporter

News reporter for The Sentinel

Load comments