Ricardo Harris, for the 1999 murders of two employees and the wounding of two others during the robbery of an Oak Lawn liquor store. April 26, 2004
Updated: April 26, 2014 6:20AM
Ricardo Harris walked into an Oak Lawn liquor store on May 13, 1999 and shot four people with a handgun, killing two employees and wounding two sisters, leaving them for dead.
In April 2004, Harris became the first defendant in Cook County to receive a death sentence since a moratorium on executions was put in place about four years earlier.
But when Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill in 2011 that abolished the death penalty, Harris’s sentence was changed to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
Last Thursday, that sentence came to an end. Harris was found dead inside his cell at the Dixon Correctional Center, according to a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Corrections. He was 59.
Harris did not share the cell where he was found, department spokeswoman Dede Short said, adding that foul play is not suspected.
She said the Lee County Coroner’s Office performed an autopsy on Harris, and the cause of death is pending the full results of the autopsy, which may not be known for two months.
“He created a lot of evil in a lot of people’s lives,” said Oak Lawn Police Chief Michael Murray, who with retired Det. Al Kowalczyk were the lead investigators in the shootings.
Murray said he knew the victims were forced to relive the horror every time Harris’ name came up again.
“I hope it’s comforting to our victims that there’s some closure,” he said.
After his 2004 conviction, Harris was placed in the Pontiac Correctional Center. He was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill in April 2011, shortly after his death sentence was altered. He was moved to Dixon in November.
At the time of Harris’ resentencing, then-Cook County Circuit Court Judge David Sterba described Harris as the most “black-hearted person” he had ever met.
“There are certain people in this world who stand out among all others and who epitomize endless evil,” Sterba told Harris. “You are such a person.”
The shootings in Oak Lawn occurred after Harris escaped six days earlier from police custody in Flint, Mich. He was awaiting trial for an armed robbery in Flint when he overpowered a sheriff’s officer and fled with the officer’s .40-caliber handgun to the Chicago area with his brother.
Harris was staying at an Oak Lawn hotel that was a few blocks from the Extra Value liquor store, which he decided to hold up. Employees Dipak Petal and Ambalal Petal were killed during the robbery, and customers Christine and Helen Chisnick were seriously wounded. They played dead until Harris left the store.
The next day, Harris was driven to Gary, where he got on a bus headed east. Police found him about three months later, living under an assumed name in North Carolina, as the result of a tip after a profile of Harris aired on the TV show, “America’s Most Wanted.”