Maintenance Man Rapes, Kills Recent Drexel Grad on Phone With Her Mother: Police

Victim was on the phone with her mother when suddenly the phone went dead

A Drexel University graduate was on the phone with her mother when she was attacked, sexually assaulted and murdered allegedly by a recently fired maintenance man who served time for killing his own father, Philadelphia detectives said. 

James Harris was charged Friday with the murder of 27-year-old Jasmine Wright. Police said the 56-year-old lurked inside the woman's third-floor apartment along 50th Street for 30 minutes on the afternoon of July 16.

When she walked in the door, he grabbed Wright, who was on the phone with her mother in  Virginia, and struggled with her, police said. Her mother heard the scuffle before the phone call abruptly cut off.

Wright was severely beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled on the apartment floor, police said. Investigators believe Harris moved her battered body to a bed and used bleach on the floor to try and cover his tracks.

"He's a monster and we're very happy to get him off the streets," said Philadelphia Police Homicide Capt. James Clark.

A week before the killing, Harris lost his job as a maintenance man in the building and was banned from the property for failing to clean and take out the trash, Clark said. The building's owner never got his keys back.

"He had keys to get into the building, I don't believe he would have had keys to get into the individual apartments unless he made copies or stole them," said Clark.

Witnesses placed Harris at the scene a half-hour before the murder and DNA linked him to the case, according to detectives. He is charged with murder, rape, burglary and related offenses. Court records did not list an attorney.

Harris has a history of violent acts including being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the 1982 death his father. He served time in prison. Harris was charged with murder in the case, but was acquitted of the charge. Police did not immediately know the case details.

He's also faced various theft and burglary counts and was charged with rape and attempted rape in the past but was either found not guilty or had the charges withdrawn, according to court records.

Wright's death left her neighbors in West Philadelphia, who said she was a well-liked young professional, in shock.

"It's hurt me just to know that it's right next door," neighbor Keith Hooks told NBC10. "And to happen to that person who didn't bother a soul."

Wright had plans to leave the apartment in the coming weeks as she pursued her career in public health, said Clark.

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