Trials & Litigation

Businessman acquitted in 4th murder trial over his wife's presumed slaying

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Are blood spatter at home, a bloodstain on a rug that could have been left by a weapon and circumstantial evidence enough to convict man of murdering his wife, even though her body was never found?

That was the question facing a New York judge after the fourth murder trial of Cal Harris, 54, a wealthy businessman whose case has progressed through two convictions, successful appeals, a deadlocked jury and now a bench trial over the course of a decade.

And on Tuesday it was answered with a not-guilty verdict after about two-and-a-half days of deliberation by a Schoharie Supreme Court judge, CBS News reports.

Attorney Bruce Barket, who represented Harris, said the defense is overjoyed. However, “there will be no celebration in our house tonight,” Harris told reporters after the verdict. “There are no winners in this case. Everybody loses.”

Barket called the prosecution of his client “a horrible abuse of power” and implied that civil litigation may now ensue. “The people that hunted Cal Harris for 15 years—today, the hunted become the prey,” the attorney said. “This is not over by a long shot.”

The Press & Sun-Bulletin also has a story about the verdict.

Backed by the couple’s four children, nearly 15 years after the alleged crime, Harris contended at trial through his lawyers that evidence was lacking to connect him to the Sept. 11, 2001 disappearance of his 35-year-old wife, according to the Albany Times-Union and an earlier Press & Sun-Bulletin story.

Harris has also tried to point the finger at other potential suspects, but Judge Richard Mott excluded evidence of scorched clothing found in a burn pit that the defense tried to present to implicate two other men. (An earlier Press & Sun-Bulletin story details that evidence.)

Defense lawyers also contended that another man could be the culprit. A neighbor reported seeing him talking to the missing woman outside her home, at a time when the government says she had already been killed, 48 Hours reported last year.

The prosecution said Michele Harris was attacked by her husband in the garage of their home, where blood spatter was found. They argued that the couple’s ongoing divorce was the motive.

“There is only one person in this case who had the motive to kill Michele Harris, and that’s the defendant,” said Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin during closing arguments on Wednesday. “There’s only one person who said he’d make her disappear, and that’s the defendant.”

Related coverage: “Verdict likely in man’s fourth murder trial over wife’s disappearance, since he nixed the jury”

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