Father charged with murder in alleged fatal beating of man

Maricopa County Sheriff(PHOENIX) -- When Melvin Harris' 16-year-old daughter told him a strange man followed her into the bathroom of an Arizona convenience store and tried to force his way into her stall, his fatherly instinct kicked in and he took matters into his own hands, his fiancée told ABC News on Thursday.

When Harris' frightened daughter told him what happened inside the QuikTrip convenience store in Phoenix he confronted the man, Leon Armstrong, 26, and ended up beating him in a gravel area outside the store, police said.

The encounter left Armstrong dead and Harris in jail on a second-degree murder charge.

"I don't feel like he did anything wrong. He was doing what any father would do," Harris' fiancée, Diana Jackson, told ABC News. "I don't think his intentions were for the man to die. Not at all."

The incident unfolded around 11 p.m. on Aug. 2, after Harris picked his daughter and her friends up from work.

"She wanted to get a fountain drink and she wanted to use the restroom," Jackson said of the couple's daughter.

Harris told Phoenix police that Armstrong approached his car as he waited outside the QuikTrip and panhandled change from him, then went inside the store, according to court records.

Moments later, Harris' daughter came out of the store and told him a man followed her into the restroom, according to the court papers.

"Melvin went into the business and told a security guard he needed to handle the situation, or he would do it himself," according to the court document. "Security told him they would handle the situation."

Harris went back to his car and started to drive away, but then saw Armstrong and confronted him, court documents showed.

"According to witnesses, Melvin approached the victim and punched him in the face causing the victim to fall. Witnesses described the victim as snoring and moaning while on the ground," the court records say. "Melvin then, while standing over the victim, struck the victim in the face several more time and also kicked and stopped [sic] on him."

He then got into his car and drove away, the records said.

Police obtained a detailed description of Harris' car from video surveillance footage and tracked down the man at his home, which is near the convenience store, and detained him for questioning.

"During the interview, he admitted to punching the victim in the face but said it was only because the victim swung at him first, striking him near the neck and shoulder area," according to court records. "After hitting the victim, the victim fell to the ground and curled up into a ball. Melvin denied recalling any further strikes to the victim while he was down on the ground."

Harris was initially arrested on suspicion of felony aggravated assault. The charges were upped to second-degree murder after Armstrong died on Aug. 7.

Police said Armstrong suffered swelling to the brain and a nasal fracture in the confrontation with Harris.

"I understand you want to defend your daughter; I totally get that. I have kids myself. But the way [Harris] went about it was totally wrong," Armstrong's sister, Ashley Armstrong, told ABC affiliate station KNXV-TV in Phoenix.

Armstrong suffered from drug addiction and mental illness, and had been living on the streets of Phoenix, his step-grandmother, Marie Armstrong, told KNXV.

"We did not know where Leon was for days," Marie Armstrong said, adding that the family learned he was in the hospital from police.

"He didn't just get kicked in the head once, twice, maybe three times," she said. "His brain was so beat up that he could not breathe.

She said she does not believe that Armstrong was out to harm Harris' daughter.

"I really seriously in my heart believe that he was confused in the bathroom," Marie Armstrong said.

But Jackson said her daughter was terrified by the incident and believes that Harris was trying to attack her.

"She feels guilty," Jackson told ABC News. "That's what she kept saying. She wishes she had never told [Harris] to take her to that store."

She described Harris as an "awesome" father and "really a family man," who has seven other children and two grandchildren.

"I just think murder shouldn't be an option as a charge," Jackson said.

Harris has not entered a plea. He is expected in court for arraignment on Friday, court records showed.

Harris' court appointed attorney has not commented on the case.Copyright © 2018, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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