Judge Weighs Verdict in Cal Harris' Fourth Trial for Murder of Wife, Missing Since 2001
brightcove.createExperiences(); For the fourth time since his estranged wife Michele went missing in 2001, New York millionaire businessman Cal Harris heard himself summed up in court Wednesday in starkly opposite terms: as a vindictive spouse pushed to murderous rage by a potentially expensive divorce, and a man falsely accused.
“On the night of Sept. 11, 2001, when most people were concerned about what had just happened earlier in the day, the defendant was concerned only with himself and how it could benefit him to put his plan in motion to make Michele disappear,” Tioga County, New York, District Attorney Kirk Martin said in closing arguments in Harris’ fourth murder trial, reports the Times Union of Albany.
Countered Harris’ defense attorney Bruce Barket, “For the last 15 years, he has endured the burden of a false accusation of murder,” according to the Press & Sun-Bulletin. Minuscule amounts of blood splatter found on the garage floor and a kitchen alcove do not suggest a fatal assault, and improper DNA testing doesn’t pinpoint the age or specific source of the stains. “You can’t rely on that kind of evidence to convict a man of murder,” he said.
Judge Richard Mott alone will decide guilt or innocence after Harris, 54, waived a jury trial in the circumstantial case, which unfolded with no evidence of a body or a murder weapon.
• Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.
Harris, a car-dealership owner from Spencer, New York, whose four children with Michele support his claim of innocence, emerged from a prior murder trial last year with a hung jury. Two earlier juries both found him guilty before the courts set those verdicts aside – the first time after a new witness came forth, and the second time after a ruling that mistakes were made at trial.
This time, the judge allowed the defense to advance a theory that not only was Harris innocent, but Michele Harris was killed by two acquaintances of hers who were named in court, reports WBNG.
Neither of those two other men has been charged.
Barket previously told PEOPLE, “Both of them have, over the years, either admitted having had a sexual relationship with her or blaming the other one for having a sexual relationship with her.” Both also admitted to others that they had burned bloody clothing after Michele’s disappearance, he said.
Prosecutor Martin said in his closing arguments that Cal Harris knew his wife had rejected a divorce settlement of $700,000, and that custody of their children, ages 2 to 7 at the time, was unresolved. Although estranged, the parents were living under the same roof with their kids, when, on the morning after 9/11, Michele’s minivan was found at the end of the quarter-mile driveway of the family home, with its key still in the ignition.
Martin alleged Michele, 35, was attacked as she came through the door of the garage. “How many blows would it take to render her incapacitated?,” he said of the missing woman who weighed about 100 pounds. “I submit not many at all – especially if a heavy object like a hammer was used.”
But defense attorney Barket argued, “The very motive they allege is simply insane.” He said the divorce was not acrimonious, despite prior testimony that alleged Cal had told Michele in an overheard conversation, “Drop the divorce proceedings. .. I will (expletive) kill you. I can make you disappear.” Of the couple’s split, he said: “It was literally calming down and ending.”
If convicted, Cal Harris faces a maximum 25-years-to-life sentence.