The verdict rewarded the gamble of a defense attorney who decided against putting his client’s fate in the hands of a jury.
“There are no winners in this case,” Harris, 54, a father of four children, said Tuesday outside the Schoharie County courthouse, reports the Press & Sun-Bulletin. Harris wept after the verdict was announced, the paper reports.
Defense attorney Bruce Barket said, “The cause for celebration is there, but Michele needs to come home.”
Prosecutors alleged that a contentious and potentially costly divorce-in-progress led Cal to kill his wife. They built a circumstantial case in part on alleged threats he made to her, along with millimeter-sized blood splatter discovered in the garage and kitchen alcove of the family home in Spencer, New York, where the estranged couple lived with their children, then ages 3 to 7.
Michele’s car was found at the end of the couple’s long driveway on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, its key still in the ignition. Neither a weapon nor a body has ever been recovered.
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Two juries believes the prosecution’s theory, and the millionaire car-dealership owner served more than three years behind bars before those guilty verdicts were overturned on different grounds each time.
After a third trial ended last year in a hung jury, Harris and Barket chose to leave the decision to Judge Richard Mott, who heard 30 days of testimony and deliberated for 12 hours before announcing his decision.
During the most recent trial, the judge Harris’s defense to introduce evidence suggesting that Michele was killed by one or more acquaintances whose names were introduced during the trial. Although nobody else has ever been charged, Barket earlier told PEOPLE that new pieces of evidence found last January in a burn pit in the yard of one of those acquaintances, allegedly “further confirms that these men were involved in Michele’s disappearance.”
The rationale for letting a judge and not a jury hear the case this time was straightforward, Barket said: “The case the prosecution has presented over the years is very long on sympathy and very short on evidence,” he said ahead of the fourth trial. “Cal has not fared well with juries. Courts have repeatedly reversed the conviction for not being fair, for not considering the evidence,” he said.
He added, “We thought we’d just do better with a judge.”