Husband faces 3rd murder trial in 2001 disappearance of wife

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Posted: Mar 14, 2015 12:57 PM
Husband faces 3rd murder trial in 2001 disappearance of wife

SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (AP) — Calvin Harris has twice been convicted of killing his estranged wife in 2001 and twice saw those verdicts overturned. Over nearly 14 years, he has been imprisoned, released and sat at the defendant's table for trials with competing narratives touching on infidelity, money and violent threats.

This third trial underway in an upstate New York court room could finally close the case begun after Michele Harris left her boyfriend's apartment the night of Sept. 11, 2001, and disappeared.

But with a body never found, it's not likely to answer every question in the case.

Prosecutors say Calvin Harris, wealthy from his family's car dealerships, killed his 35-year-old wife when she came home to the secluded Southern Tier estate they shared with their four young children. Defense lawyers claim authorities overlooked potential suspects from the freewheeling life she led as her marriage broke up and improperly focused on her husband.

"Cal was certainly somebody that they had to investigate. But once you investigate him and you come out with no evidence, or very little evidence, you have to move on," defense attorney Bruce Barket said in an interview.

In 2001, Calvin and Michele Harris lived in the same house near the Pennsylvania line, but slept in separate rooms. The marriage was ending and she took a waitressing job for extra money. She had a boyfriend and a brief romantic relationship with a man who had previously assaulted a woman and had admitted to abusing drugs, according to court papers.

Calvin Harris had raised concerns about his wife to friends and family — and told people she would not get half his business. One prosecution witness testified Michele Harris let him overhear a cellphone conversation in which Calvin Harris threatened to kill her and make her disappear in urging her to drop divorce proceedings, according to court papers.

Michele Harris was missing by the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, as the nation remained riveted by the terrorist attacks of the previous day. A baby sitter found her empty minivan — keys still in the ignition — at the end of their winding driveway.

Police searching the Harris home found blood stains in the kitchen and garage. Prosecutors claim Calvin Harris attacked her in the house and then disposed of her body before the van was discovered the next morning. An intensive search of the sprawling property failed to turn up her body.

Defense lawyers say the small amount of blood linked to Michele could have come from other incidents.

A jury found Calvin Harris guilty of second-degree murder in 2007. Hours after the verdict, local farmhand Kevin Tubbs came forward and said he was hauling hay after daybreak on Sept. 12, 2001, when he saw a blonde woman who looked like Michele Harris apparently crying at the foot of the couple's driveway. By her side, Tubbs said, was an angry-looking man in his 20s — someone clearly not Calvin Harris.

A second trial was ordered and a second conviction in 2009 was later overturned based on trial-court errors.

This third trial is being held at a neutral site more than 100 miles northeast of the Harris home. The children, now grown or close to it, showed up at the start of the trial in rural Schoharie and support their father, now 53.

Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin, who is not speaking to the media during the trial, has described Calvin Harris to the jury as an uncaring and controlling husband.

"Who had the motive to kill Michele? The defendant. Who had the opportunity to kill Michele? The defendant. Who went on with their life as if Michele wasn't coming back? The defendant," he said during opening arguments.

Barket, who is expected to begin his defense later this month, said in interviews that police did not look hard enough in particular at two Texans then working in the area. Barket said he believes Michele Harris, after leaving her boyfriend on the night of Sept. 11, went out again with the two men "and that something happened in the course of the night where she met her demise."

"Over the course of 13-and-a half-years, each of them have given very inconsistent accounts of their whereabouts on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12, their conduct on those dates, their relationship with Michele Harris," Barket said.

The lawyer is attempting to subpoena witnesses including the two men, who have denied involvement in the disappearance. It's unclear how much information about the two men Barket will be able to present to a jury because of court rules involving evidence.

Barket said that one of those men fits the physical description of the man Tubbs saw and had a truck like the one Tubbs described, and that police searched three ponds in and around where he lived this past December.

State police, who said they would not comment on the case during the trial, told CBS's "48 Hours" last year that the man and others interviewed cooperated with investigators and were eliminated as suspects.