Charles Voyde Harrelson
(July 23, 1938 – March 15, 2007)
was an American freelance hitman connected with organized crime
and was convicted of assassinating a federal judge. He was the father of
actor Woody Harrelson.
Murder of Judge Wood
Harrelson was sentenced to two life terms for the
May 29, 1979,
assassination of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood, Jr. Harrelson was
convicted of shooting and killing Wood in the parking lot outside of
Wood's San Antonio, Texas, townhouse after being hired by drug dealer
Jamiel Chagra of El Paso. 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.
Harrelson was apprehended with the aid of an
anonymous tip and a taped conversation between Jimmy (Jamiel) and his
brother, Joe Chagra. He claimed at trial that he did not kill Wood, but
merely took credit for it so he could score a huge payout from Chagra.
Harrelson was eventually convicted based largely on
Chagra's conversation with his brother who was visiting him in prison.
Both Harrelson and Chagra's brother Joe were implicated in the
assassination. Harrelson was sentenced to life imprisonment, while Joe
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 current mayor of Las Vegas, Oscar Goodman. In a plea
bargain, Chagra admitted to his role in the murder of Judge Wood and the
attempted murder of a U.S. Attorney.
After his release in 2003, Jimmy Chagra claimed that
Harrelson did not murder Judge Wood. While he did not identify the real
killer, Chagra indicated that he or she was long deceased. Jamiel and
Joe Chagra allegedly misled federal officials by talking about hiring
Harrelson to kill Judge Wood when they knew they were being illegally
taped during a legal visit in the prison because Harrelson had been
blackmailing Joe Chagra with information he did have about the murder of
This incident is mentioned in Cormac McCarthy's book
No Country for Old Men. In the film for the book Charles
Harrelson's son, Woody Harrelson, plays a bounty hunter.
Prior to the Wood murder, Harrelson was tried for the
1968 murder for hire killing of Hearne, Texas, father of four and grain
dealer Sam Degelia Jr., by his business partner and childhood friend
since the second grade, Pete Thomas Scamardo, in McAllen, Texas.
Scamardo was trafficking heroin across the Mexican border and Harrelson
was distributing the drugs.
Harrelson lost a shipment of heroin in Kansas City,
MO after a traffic stop in June of 1968. For losing the heroin, Scamardo
pressured Harrelson into committing the murder for hire of his business
partner on July 6, 1968. Harrelson committed the murder for hire on July
6, 1968. On November 19, 1968, Harrelson was arrested in Atlanta, GA in
possession of a new car, which had been reported stolen on November 15,
Two witnesses identified Scamardo and Harrelson
together on November 14, 1968 near Mumford, Texas, where Harrelson's
rental car was later found submerged in 20 feet of water. On November
19, 1968, Harrelson was arrested in Atlanta, GA in possession of
Scamardo's wife's new car, which had been reported stolen on November
The driver of the vehicle used to kidnap and kill Sam
Degelia was driven by Jerry Watkins and was the only witness to the
murder. Details of the murder, told by Jerry Watkins were corroborated
by independent testimony from Harrelson's girlfriend, Sandra Sue Attaway.
Other damaging testimony came from Bob Musser,
a Houston Polygraph examiner that testifed that on September 13,
1970, Scamardo and an attorney, Owen Stidham, asked him to falsify a
polygraph report for Scamardo, three months before his arrest on
December 7, 1968. Musser also testified that
Scamardo and Stidham had related facts to him that implicate Scamardo in
the Murder of Sam Degelia, Jr.
On March 31, 1970, in spite of the prosecutor seeking
the death penalty, a jury of 6 men and 6 women convicted Pete Scamardo
as an accomplice to murder and sentenced him to a seven year probated
sentence. The Jury reached a guilty verdict in 12 hours and then
deliberated an hour and 22 minutes before settling on a probated
Scamardo and Harrelson's attorney was Percy Foreman,
who had been counsel for convicted Martin Luther King assassin James
Earl Ray and lost only 53 of 1500 death-penalty cases with only one
finally resulting in execution. At Harrelson's first trial Foreman
produced a surprise witness: a nightclub singer who claimed that she had
been with Harrelson at the time of the murder. The trial ended in a hung
jury: 11 for conviction, one for acquittal.
Harrelson was retried in 1974 in Brownsville, Texas.
Texas Ranger Tol Dawson, the lead investigator on the Degelia case, was
in the courtroom with a perjury arrest warrant for the nightclub singer,
but she had learned of it and fled to Aruba. Without the help of her
testimony, Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in
prison. With time off for good behavior, he was free in five years.
Harrelson mentioned in an early confession to the
Wood murder that he shot President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963. He
then later repeatedly denied his role in the shooting of the President,
for which no connection was ever found.
Conspiracy theorists have also labeled him as one of
the "Three Tramps" hiding in a box car on the railroad tracks behind
Dealey Plaza just after the shooting. Harrelson at various times before
his death boasted about his role as one of the tramps,
even though in a previous interview he had denied being in Dallas
on the day of the assassination.
About the assassination, Harrelson remarked to Dallas
TV station KDFW-TV in 1982, "Do you believe that Lee Harvey Oswald
killed President Kennedy, alone, without any aid from a rogue agency of
the US government or at least a portion of that agency? I believe you
are very naive if you do."
After attempting to escape from the Atlanta federal
penitentiary in 1996, Harrelson was 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
He was found unresponsive in his cell
on March 15, 2007, having died of severe coronary artery disease. Woody
Harrelson had attempted to have his father's conviction overturned in
order to secure a new trial, without success. His Federal Bureau of
Prisons Register number was 02582-016.
Secrets of Woody’s hitman father
By John Harlow - The Sunday Times
April 8, 2007
family secrets of Woody Harrelson, the Hollywood actor, are to be
revealed in a prison memoir written by his father, a professional hitman.
Charles “Chuck” Harrelson, who died in a Colorado
maximum security jail last month, left a bundle of papers to his three
sons with a plea to clear him of murdering a judge. But he admits in the
memoir that he was involved in dozens of killings stretching back to the
Woody Harrelson, who played a psychopath in Oliver
Stone’s 1994 film Natural Born Killers, has not yet decided what to do
with the papers, although he has already challenged the final conviction
that landed his father in a “supermax” high-security prison.
His father, who wanted his life story to be published,
first went to prison when Woody was seven and was jailed for life when
his son was at college, but said he always hoped that one day they would
have a “straight, no bull” talk about his past.
Chuck Harrelson’s death at 69 following heart trouble
meant that conversation never took place. However, the papers are
expected to answer questions posed both by his family and by the
relatives of his many supposed victims.
Prosecutors said Harrelson, a violent thief and
killer for hire in his twenties, was unusual because he used a sniper
rifle rather than a handgun. “Charles Harrelson damaged everyone he came
in contact with,” said the prosecutor at his last trial.
Harrelson even boasted — probably to impress
potential employers — that he had shot President John F Kennedy in
Dallas in 1963. He claimed to have been one of three men dressed as
tramps on the grassy knoll close to the Kennedy cavalcade and said that
Lee Harvey Oswald, the presumed assassin, was too far away from the
president to get a clear shot.
If the grassy knoll story was a self-promoting
fabrication, it seems to have worked. In 1979 he was allegedly paid
$250,000 to shoot a Texas judge preparing to sentence a drug dealer. The
plot backfired. The judge died but the dealer was arrested and claimed
to have hired Harrelson, who received two life sentences.
In 2003 the dealer recanted, saying someone else had
shot the judge. Woody Harrelson stepped up pressure for a retrial, but
his father died before lawyers could get him out of jail. “My father was
no saint, but a lot of sources led me to believe it was not a fair trial,”
he said recently.
Woody Harrelson, 45, who rose to fame as the slow,
sweet-natured barman Woody Boyd in the TV comedy Cheers, has generated
more recent headlines with political stunts. He scaled the Golden Gate
bridge to unveil an antilogging banner and, as a vegan, has protested
against factory farming.
He will appear next in a film called Battle in
Seattle, set amid violent protests against the World Trade Organisation
summit in 1999. “It’s to make up for not being there myself,” he joked.
Harrelson has had his own misadventures. He once
admitted to “sex addiction” and in the early 1980s was fined after
dancing in traffic and jumping out of a moving police van. He remains
unsure how his life was influenced by his father’s criminal career.
“I suspect it’s a mixed influence — it made me think
outlaw, but I would not want to hurt anyone,” he said.
Chuck Harrelson revealed his literary ambitions to
Kenny Gallo, a convicted mafia “associate” in the FBI witness protection
programme. “He wrote to me saying he was writing the book that exposed
all the lies written about him over the years,” Gallo said.
He denied that Harrelson had killed 50 people: “He
may have been involved in that many killings, maybe driving the car or
something, but he only carried out maybe six killings himself.”
America no longer produced assassins like Harrelson,
he added. “Today, you want someone killed, you call in a Russian or an
Israeli. I don’t know how Woody feels about his father, but Harrelson
was probably the last of a killing breed."
Harrelson (born July
23, 1938) is an organized crime-connected freelance hitman. He is the
father of actor Woody Harrelson.
Harrelson was sentenced to two life
terms for the May 29, 1979 assassination of U.S. District Judge John H.
Wood, Jr.. Harrelson reportedly shot and killed Wood in the parking lot
outside of Wood's San Antonio, Texas house for local drug dealer Jamiel
Chagra. Wood - nicknamed "Maximum John" because of his reputation for
handing down long sentences for drug offenses - was to have Chagra
appear before him on the day of his murder.
Harrelson was apprehended with the
aid of an anonymous tip and a taped conversation between Jimmy and Joe
Chagra. He claimed at trial that he did not kill Wood, but merely took
credit for it so he could score a huge pay out from Chagra.
Harrelson was eventually convicted of
being the gunman due to Chagra's speaking about it to his brother who
was visiting him in prison. Both Harrelson and Chagra's brother Joe were
implicated in the assassination.
Harrelson got life, Joe Chagra got 10
years, and Jimmy Chagra's wife also got several years and died in prison
in 1987. Jimmy Chagra himself was acquitted of the murder of Judge Wood
in front of Judge William Sessions when his brother Joe refused to
testify against him. Chagra was represented by Oscar Goodman who is the
current mayor of Las Vegas. Jimmy Chagra, in a deal with the feds,
admitted to his role in the murder of Judge Wood and the attempted
murder of a U.S. attorney.
After his release in 2003 Chagra told
a friend that Harrelson did NOT murder Judge Wood. He did not identify
the real killer, but he indicated that the real killer was long
deceased. Jamiel and Joe Chagra misled federal officials by talking
about hiring Harrelson to kill Judge Wood when they knew they were being
illegal taped during a legal visit in the prison.
Jamiel and Joe Chagra framed
Harrelson for the murder because he had been blackmailing Joe Chagra
with information he did have about the murder of the judge.
Harrelson has declared that he was
involved in John F. Kennedy's assassination. Some think he was one of
the three tramps arrested on November 22, 1963 in a train near Dealey
Plaza, but Dallas Police Department documents made public in 1992 reveal
that the three men really were transients with no connection to the
Prior to the Wood murder, Harrelson
was tried for the 1968 killing of Hearne grain dealer Sam Degilia in
Edinburg, Texas. Harrelson's attorney was Percy Foreman, who had been
counsel for confessed Martin Luther King assassin James Earl Ray.
Foreman produced a surprise witness:
a nightclub singer who claimed that she had been with Harrelson at the
time of the murder. The trial ended in a hung jury—-11 for conviction,
one for acquittal.
Harrelson was retried in 1974 in
Brownsville, Texas. Texas Ranger Jack Dean, the lead investigator on the
Degilia case, was in the courtroom with a perjury arrest warrant for the
nightclub singer. But she had learned of it, and fled to Aruba. Without
the help of her testimony, Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced to
15 years in prison. With time off for good behavior, he was free in five
attempting to escape from the Atlanta federal penitentiary in 1996, he
was transferred to Supermax prison ADX Florence, where he remains. Woody
Harrelson has attempted to get his father's conviction overturned and
secure a new trial, but to no avail.
Charles Voyde Harrelson
Charles Voyde Harrelson
Charles Voyde Harrelson
was the father of actor Woody Harrelson.