Michael Harris pleads not guilty, charged with killing man, setting his apartment on fire

MILWAUKEE -- Michael Harris, the man facing charges in connection with the death of 74-year-old Robert Feldner, entered a plea of not guilty Tuesday, July 2. The court found probable cause and Harris was bound over for trial.

Feldner's lifeless body was pulled from an apartment fire near 91st and Hampton Avenue on Thursday morning, May 9.

Michael Harris faces the following criminal charges:

    Michael Harris

    According to the criminal complaint, firefighters were dispatched to the apartment fire around 8:25 a.m. on Thursday -- after a series of 911 calls came into the dispatch center. When firefighters arrived on the scene, they entered the building and found Feldner's body lying on the floor of a hallway. The complaint said he "was clearly deceased, with trauma to his head" along with third-degree burns.

    The complaint indicated Harris suffers from mental illness.

    On the morning of the fire, Harris' brother told police he received a phone call from Harris shortly after 8 a.m. The complaint said during that call, "(Harris) stated: 'I'm here with Bob Feldner. He wants to talk to you.' It sounded like the call was on speaker phone." The brother tried to determine whether Robert Feldner was safe or in danger. A few moments later, the complaint said Harris "came back on the line and said: 'You won' or words to that effect. The call then ended abruptly."

    Fire near 91st and Hampton Avenue

    Fire near 91st and Hampton Avenue

    According to the criminal complaint, Harris' brother believed "(Harris) deliberately harmed" Feldner  and "deliberately set the fire." When officers went to Harris' residence, Harris "appeared to be in a state of mental distress." He was arrested at that point.

    As part of the investigation, officers viewed security video from a gas station adjacent to Feldner's apartment building. The complaint said that video "shows (Harris) walking into the parking lot carrying a red pail at approximately 8:20 a.m. (Harris) pumps some gasoline into the pail and then walks back the way he came, toward the apartment complex." Shortly after this, "smoke is seen wafting into view."

    Investigators recovered a knife and a cigarette lighter among the debris in the burned out lower unit at the apartment  building. The complaint said an "odor of accelerant was detected in the front hallway where the victim's body was found."

    Fire near 91st and Hampton Avenue

    An autopsy was conducted on Robert Feldner. The medical examiner observed multiple injuries. The examination also showed "the victim's airways were free of soot." That was an indication Feldner was dead when the fire was started.

    FOX6 spoke with a man who said he's Harris' brother hours after the fire Thursday. He said he lived in the building until it burned down -- and believed Harris was responsible for the arson/homicide.

    "The day before this incident happened, that night, we had the police out here -- trying to get them to take him into custody," he said. "I came home from work, but by that time, Bob was dead. The house was on fire, and then they had arrested my brother. We, over the last two weeks, have been trying to get the police department to intervene to get him in for some help. I came home on Tuesday night and there was a gun laying on the table."

    Fatal fire near 91st and Hampton, Milwaukee

    Prosecutors said the man's brother began firing a gun in a residential neighborhood on Thursday night, May 2. After police took him in, witnesses told police he has mental health issues, and in the past he suffered from an episode of excited delirium. A few days later, a warrant was issued for his arrest after he failed to show up for court.

    "My brother's case, there was so much there that if somebody had really took the time to look into what was being expressed to them, we could have really saved Bob's life," the man said.