In what could be a precedent-setting case, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has ended prison visiting privileges for an online dealer who sells items tied to infamous killers.
G. William Harder, who has been visiting Texas from his home in California, was removed early this week from "several" inmates' visitation lists, prison system spokesman Jason Clark said. He did not specify how many inmates were in question.
"It was determined that Mr. Harder was paying Death Row offenders for items that, we believe, he was in turn selling on his website," Clark said.
Harder oversees murderauction.com, one of various websites that sell artwork, letters, photos, autographed T-shirts, hair samples, foot scrapings, death certificates and other items from killers in prison.
But Harder, who maintains that he has never paid inmates for personal items, said the visitation ban was a response to press coverage of his most recent Texas visit. The phone call from a prison warden informing him he was no longer allowed to visit came Oct. 29, less than a week after a Chronicle story on murderabilia websites' impact on families of murder victims.
In particular, relatives of James Byrd Jr., who was dragged to death in June 1998 in East Texas, have decried the listing on Harder's website of four items with a connection to John W. King or Shawn A. Berry, two of three men convicted in Bird's death.
King, 39, is on death row at the prison system's Polunsky Unit near Livingston. Berry, also 39, is serving a life sentence at the Ramsey Unit in Rosharon. The third man, Lawrence A. Brewer, was executed in September 2011 at age 44.
"I've had numerous inmates tell me the prison was looking for a way to ban me," Harder said by phone. "I'm not liked in the Polunsky Unit (where Death Row prisoners are housed near Livingston). They've done it before, to anti-death penalty activists."
Besides banning his visits, prison officials also suspended Harder's status as a spiritual advisor, he said.
Houston crime victims' advocate Andy Kahan, who has worked against murderbilia for about 15 years, said it was the first case he knew of in which a dealer was removed from prisoners' visitation lists.
Harder said he planned to meet Nov. 8 with an attorney and would appeal the decision within the allotted two weeks. If the appeal is denied, Harder said he would proceed with filing a lawsuit.
The business of online sales of prisoners' possessions is continually changing, Kahan said. One recent phenomenon, he said, is websites devoted exclusively to the artwork of a single prisoner, such as Jodi Arias. She was convicted of the June 2008 fatal stabbing of her former boyfriend, Travis Alexander, at his home in Mesa, Ariz.