Life As a Criminal
Working as a professional gambler, he got involved in criminal activities. In 1960, Harrelson was found guilty and sentenced for armed robbery. Later, he tried to earn living by selling dental equipment. In 1964, he moved back to Texas.
In May 1968, Harrelson was arrested in the murder of Alan Harry Berg, a carpet salesman from Houston, Texas. Harrelson’s ex-girlfriend Sandra Attaway testified against him, stating she had seen Harrelson fire the gunshot. Harrelson engaged the well-known attorney Percy Foreman to represent him. In September 1970, he was acquitted of the murder charge.
In 1968, Harrelson was again tried for the murder of Sam Degelia Jr. He had allegedly accepted a contract (for $2,000) for killing Degelia, a grain dealer from Hearne, Texas. The man was assassinated in McAllen, Texas. The first trial was not conclusive as his attorney, Percy Foreman, brought in a witness who attested Harrelson’s innocence, but in the 1973 retrial, the witness refused to testify and Charles was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. His good conduct led to his early release and he was set free in 1978.
In May 1979, Harrelson, along with his then-wife, Jo Ann, was charged with the murder of US District Judge John H. Wood Jr. He was reportedly hired by an El Paso drug dealer Jamiel ‘Jimmy’ Alexander Chagra for $250,000 to eliminate the judge. Chagra was arrested for drug trafficking across the border and was slated to appear before Judge Wood, who was known as ‘Maximum John’ because of the heavy sentences he issued for drug offences.
The Judge was assassinated, (using a rifle and a scope), outside his home in San Antonio, Texas, while he was entering his car. He was shot in the back and died on the way to the hospital. This was the first incidence in American history, when a federal judge was assassinated while in the office. The law enforcement agencies initiated a hunt when they received an anonymous tip, and a recorded conversation between Jimmy Chagra, and his brother, Joe.
While trying to evade the investigation officials, Harrelson drowned himself in drugs but was soon stopped at a Texas interstate. He was in a deadlock with the police for 6 hours, during which he admitted that he had killed the Judge, and also stated that he had assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
During the trial, Harrelson repudiated killing Judge Wood, saying he had earlier admitted it only to get Chagra’s big payment. He got two life sentences, while Chagra was acquitted as his brother didn’t testify against him. He got 10 years prison term.
Later, in 2003, Chagra retracted his earlier statements and stated that Harrelson wasn’t the one who shot the Judge. Harrelson’s son, actor Woody Harrelson, tried to get a new trial on the basis of Chagra’s new statement, but didn’t succeed in it.
Harrelson, along with two others, tried to escape from the ‘Atlanta Federal Penitentiary’ on July 4, 1995. A warning shot made them surrender. Later, he was shifted to the ‘Supermax Prison ADX Florence’ in Florence, Colorado.
During his 6 hour standoff with the police in Texas, in 1980, Harrelson claimed that he was the one who had assassinated Judge Wood and President J. F. Kennedy. According to him, he was one of the three tramps at the grassy knoll, closer to the Presidential cavalcade. He also stated that the alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, was at a far distance from the president to get an exact shot.
However, at the time of standoff, he was heavily under influence of drugs, and later retracted, saying, he had claimed it only to gain time. FBI also cleared that Harrelson had no connection with the President’s assassination.
Family &Personal Life
Harrelson married 4 times. He got married to Nancy Hillman Harrelson, Diane Lou Oswald (1959-1964), Jo Ann Harrelson, and Gina Adelle Foster.
He had three sons with Diane Lou - Woody, Brett and Jordan. Woody Harrelson is well-known actor known for TV sitcom ‘Cheers.’
Harrelson died of a heart-attack in Colorado prison on March 15, 2007.