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New Haven man sentenced for 1987 murder of father, son

Willie McFarland was sentenced to 120 years for the brutal 1987 murder of Greg and Fred Harris.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After an investigation that spanned three decades, 55-year-old Willie McFarland was sentenced Tuesday at New Haven Superior Court for unleashing what District Judge Elpedio Vitali described as “a demonic level of violence and terror.”

On an August night in 1987, McFarland bound 23-year-old Greg Harris and his father, 59-year-old Fred Harris and nearly decapitated them in their condominium on Fitch Street in Hamden. Tuesday, Vitali sentenced McFarland to 120 years for the murders. FOX61’s cameras weren’t allowed inside and McFarland was in the courthouse but refused to enter the courtroom for sentencing. 

The investigation took 32 years. Investigators followed key evidence, met with McFarland in prison roughly a dozen times, got a confession, and ultimately modern DNA science allowed police to link McFarland to the crime scene more than 30 years ago. He was convicted in 2019.

McFarland bound Greg and Fred Harris with phone cords, stabbed them in the chest and nearly decapitated them both—after sexually assaulting Greg. Police who have been working on this case for 35 years had their eyes on McFarland all along. 

“Interviewing him, having him talk about what he did during that August night was really bone-chilling,” said Ronald Smith, now retired from the Hamden Police Department. 

Then Hamden Captain Ronald Smith was instrumental in meeting with McFarland while he was in prison at Northern Correctional Facility for a different sexual assault and getting him to confess to the Harris murders, saying he broke in looking for money and a gun. 

“I can almost retire now, feel good about retiring because this case really waned on me for many years as it did many others,” said Smith Tuesday after the sentencing. 

After a relative called for a wellness check, Greg and Fred Harris were found days later. 

But Tuesday no family members were present nor was McFarland when he was sentenced to 120 years in prison for the murders. 

“Covered generations of officers working together and partnering with the New Haven State’s Attorney’s Cold Case Unit. We were finally able to make an arrest in this case,” said Detective Sean Dolan, now retired from the Hamden Police Department. 

McFarland’s arrest didn’t come until 2019 after modern DNA technology linked McFarland to the scene.

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“Ultimately, with enhancements with DNA evidence as the years went on, we were able to link certain parts of that confession to scientific evidence and DNA that linked it to Mr. McFarland,” Dolan said. 

But who is this career criminal who refused to enter the courtroom? His attorneys said there are two Willie McFarlands. One was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and can be polite to corrections staff and another has 337 disciplinary tickets in prison including 16 assaults on corrections staff. They said McFarland is now in a wheelchair and old beyond his numerical years. 

Judge Vitali said McFarland is an “unqualified menace and danger to the community” and “rarely has the court encountered a defendant as dangerous as this.”

McFarland confessed to the Harris murders in 1996.

Prosecutors praised the Hamden Police Department Tuesday, saying they left no stone unturned. Officers who worked the case said generations of officers have sought justice for the Harris family and now have some closure. 

Samaia Hernandez is a reporter for FOX61 News. She can be reached at shernandez@fox61.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


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