Argument over unpaid phone bill turns deadly — (NorthJersey.com)

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NorthJersey.com

By TOM TRONCONE,STAFF WRITER

A homebound blind man killed his former girlfriend Monday afternoon in Englewood during a quarrel about an unpaid phone bill, authorities said.

Police charged Robert Cameron, 31, of Rock Creek Terrace with first-degree murder in the death of Coleen Garris, who was shot numerous times in the body and pronounced dead shortly after 4 p.m. at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center.

Details about the shooting were scant Monday night as police waited for a search warrant needed to re-enter Cameron’s apartment, where the gun used in the slaying remained, Bergen County Prosecutor John Molinelli said.

Cameron was being held Monday evening under police guard at the Englewood hospital after ingesting prescription medication – including a large amount of the antidepressant Paxil – before police arrived, Molinelli said. He was in fair condition and expected to survive.

Police ruled out a suicide attempt, the prosecutor said.

“Only because he had the gun,” Molinelli said. “He had the means to take his own life if he wanted to.”

Both the slaying and Cameron’s arrest were greeted with disbelief in the tightknit Rock Creek public housing development. A group of his family members, as well as numerous curious neighbors, sat in doorways or stood in small clusters along the development’s narrow, winding streets.

Molinelli said a Cameron cousin called police about the shooting at 3:17 p.m. The prosecutor estimated the slaying occurred “sometime between 2 and 3 p.m.”

Police said they didn’t know why Garris, a 31-year-old single mother who also lived in the complex, was inside Cameron’s apartment. The ground-floor apartment is near the center of the large town-house development on a gently sloping, wooded hill near Route 4.

Police taped off a grassy area around the apartment and spent part of the early evening Monday walking door-to-door, asking neighbors if they had heard gunfire. Word quickly spread, and soon several of Cameron’s relatives arrived to seek information about the case.

“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Roy Harris, a Cameron cousin. “Why do you kill somebody over a $25 phone bill? He wasn’t that type of guy, wasn’t a street guy.”

“I can’t make much sense out of any of this,” said Lakisha Harris, another cousin.

Relatives described Cameron as an ailing man, robbed of his vision by diabetes. He suffered from high blood pressure and a heart condition, and lived on public assistance and through the kindness of relatives, who would bring him food and cook his meals, Roy Harris said.

The relatives wondered how Cameron could have shot Garris numerous times – reportedly as many as six – given his physical condition.

“One eye is completely blind, and the other he only sees shadows,” said cousin Benita Harris. “How could he shoot her so many times? I mean, was she just standing there waiting for it?”

“How do you charge a blind man with murder?” Roy Harris asked.

Cameron and Garris maintained an “on again, off again” relationship for a year, said Laura Harris, Cameron’s sister.

The pair had lived together for a short time, but broke up about three months ago, Molinelli said.

Benita Harris said the relationship had deteriorated as Cameron’s medical condition worsened.

“He used to go out and do things, and he couldn’t no more,” she said. “And [Garris] said she couldn’t handle it anymore. She couldn’t handle his disabilities.”

Little was known about Garris on Monday night. None of her family could be reached, and her mother, who also lives in the complex, was not home. One of Cameron’s relatives said Garris was the single mother of a 5-year-old son and worked at a nearby Walgreens.

Authorities did not say why they thought the shooting resulted from an argument about a telephone bill.

Staff Writers Carolyn Salazar and Yung Kim contributed to this article. E-mail: troncone@northjersey.com