The documentary “American Monster: The Only Way Out” on Investigation Discovery details the gruesome killing of Donna Harris, a 30-year-old mother of two, in December 1998 in Columbia County, Florida.
Within weeks of the murder, the investigators were able to pin down the killers, and they were prosecuted for the gruesome murder.
Let’s dig into the murder mystery of Donna Harris.
How was Donna Harris killed? Why was she murdered?
On December 4, 1998, Donna Harris’ military spouse Roger Stewart Harris reported her missing.
He stated that Donna left the house in her truck to go to the neighborhood Walmart to swap a birthday present for him, and she never returned.
About 72 hours later, on December 7, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office got a report of a suspiciously abandoned van in a truck stop parking lot.
When the detectives identified Donna’s car as hers, the crime scene specialists showed up at a stinky car.
Donna was discovered by the technicians lying face down with her head wedged in between the wall and the seats.
According to court records, a head injury was the cause of death. The murder weapon, a handmade gun that was eventually identified as the nail punch, and other equipment were found next to the body.
Who murdered Donna?
When the detectives spoke with Donna’s coworkers, they learned that she had recently been venting about her marital issues and the fact that their babysitter, Jennifer, was having an affair.
The police learned of Roger and Jennifer’s relationship during the investigation.
When questioned, they both initially denied having an affair. But when the police informed Jennifer that Donna’s body had been discovered, she sobbed nervously and became transparent about what had happened.
She instantly admitted the facts, taking responsibility for the murder.
Donna found out her spouse has a relationship with Jennifer. According to court records, on July 3, 1998, Donna left the house with her kids after suspecting Roger of being unfaithful.
After a few weeks, she returned home to evict Jennifer, who moved in with the neighbors and continued to look after the kids.
When Donna discovered that the relationship was still ongoing, she fired her.
Roger made the decision to divorce Donna, but he later changed his mind after Donna allegedly threatened to take full custody of the kids.
According to Jennifer’s evidence, Roger was cleaning supplies and packing them in a rubbish bag when she got a call on December 2, 1998, and she returned from her shift at a nearby pub.
Jennifer claimed that Roger instructed her to dispose of the bag after telling her it contained pieces of a homemade gun he had used to kill his wife.
Driving his wife’s van, she kept up with him and observed her get out of the van at the truck stop and get into her car to go home.
What were the killers accused of? Where are they now?
On January 22, 1999, Roger was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree murder conspiracy.
In 2000, he was found guilty on all counts and given a death sentence; however, the Florida Supreme Court mitigated it to a life term.
According to official court records, Roger, in his mid-sixties, is currently incarcerated in the Hardee Correctional Institution.
As an accessory after the fact to murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Jennifer entered a guilty plea. She received a 25-year prison term that was ultimately reduced to 20 years.
She is in her mid-40s, has served her prison sentence, and has been released. She now leads a private life away from the spotlight.