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Not guilty plea from parolee accused in armed robbery at home of former city councilman

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An ex-con who allegedly participated in a violent home-invasion robbery at the home of Metropolitan Transit System Board Chairman and former San Diego City Councilman Harry Mathis pleaded not guilty Thursday to eight charges, including kidnapping for robbery.

Harvey Henry Duson, a 45-year-old parolee, was ordered held on $1 million bail.

Deputy District Attorney Martin Doyle said Mathis, his wife and a neighbor were assaulted in the couple's University City home on Jan. 11.

Police said that about 9 that night, a man with a ski mask over his face confronted Mathis, 78, moments after he returned home from an outing.

The armed intruder demanded cash. During an ensuing struggle, Mathis, who has a concealed firearm permit, responded by pulling his own pistol and firing two shots at the robber, both of which missed. The assailant wrestled away Mathis' handgun and beat him over the head with it, according to police.

A passing neighbor who heard the gunfire went to check on Mathis and his wife and was confronted by one of two or three masked intruders and dragged inside the house. Inside, meanwhile, one of the bandits forced Mathis' 77-year-old wife at knifepoint to open a safe before forcing her into a bathroom.

The gun-toting robbers then ordered Mathis to open a still-locked compartment in the safe and give them money. The victim complied, but there was no money inside the lockbox.

At that point, the intruders ordered Mathis and the neighbor into the bathroom where the woman already was being held, and told the three to remain there or the house would be burned down.

After a few moments, the victims emerged and discovered that two small blazes had been set in the residence, one in the garage and the other in the kitchen. Firefighters arrived a short time later and were able to douse the flames.

Medics took Mathis to a hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries to his head and face. His wife and neighbor were unhurt.

The victims suffered a "minimal amount" of property loss during the holdup, according to police.

Doyle alleged that Duson and one or two others participated in the attack.

"Mr. Duson is charged with being the primary assailant who attacked Mr. Mathis from behind," Doyle told reporters outside court.

In addition to kidnapping for robbery, Duson is charged with burglary, robbery, three counts of false imprisonment of an elder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. He faces 115 years to life in prison if convicted, Doyle said.

Detectives did some follow-up investigation and identified Duson as a suspect in the home-invasion robbery, the prosecutor said.

Duson eluded arrest after police got word that he had failed to show for a meeting with a parole agent, claiming that his car had broken down on Interstate 8 in La Mesa.

Shortly after 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 14, officers found the suspect's Pontiac Grand Prix on the southern shoulder of the freeway near Severin Drive. They took up positions around it and blocked off all but one eastbound lane in the area, unsure if Duson remained in the sedan, which had heavily tinted windows.

Rush-hour traffic slowed to a crawl for miles to the west for about two hours, until officers smashed the windows of the vehicle and pried open its trunk, finding nobody inside.

The next day, a member of the Arizona Department of Public Safety pulled over Duson for speeding. While the officer was running a computer check, the parolee drove off.

Duson led authorities on a pursuit that crossed into Utah and Nevada and back into Arizona at speeds exceeding 100 mph before the car he was driving sideswiped another vehicle and overturned while he was trying to avoid a tire-flattening spike strip officers had placed in his path.

Duson, whose last known residence was in El Cajon, was released from state prison about a year ago, after serving half of a 32-year sentence he'd received for an armed robbery in Lemon Grove. That August 1993 crime led to a confrontation during which a deputy opened fire on Duson, wounding him, said San Diego police Capt. Terry McManus.

 

A readiness conference was set for March 26 and a preliminary hearing for March 28.

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