Feb. 11, 2003, 8:32AM

Mother-in-law: Harris match 'made in heaven'

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

The mother of Clear Lake orthodontist David Harris -- killed July 24 when crushed beneath his wife's Mercedes-Benz -- testified Monday that his marriage to Clara Harris was "made in heaven."

Mildred Harris joined her husband, Gerald, and their son, Gerald Jr., as the final defense witnesses in Clara Harris' murder trial. Harris, 45, a Lake Jackson dentist, is accused of deliberately running over her philandering husband in a fit of jealousy.

"They were ideal for each other," Mildred Harris told jurors in state District Judge Carol G. Davies' court. "They were sweet and good to everybody. God was good to them, and they shared it with other people."

This Friday -- St. Valentine's Day -- would have marked the couple's 11th wedding anniversary.

After chief defense attorney George Parnham rested his case at 11:40 a.m., prosecutors began their rebuttal, calling witnesses to challenge defense testimony that David Harris had been hit only once.

In a sign that the 2 1/2-week-old trial may be entering its closing stages, Davies asked jurors to come to court today prepared to spend the night.

The state is to call at least one more rebuttal witness before final arguments begin.

Mildred Harris, who was among the victim's family members who publicly supported the defendant at the trial's opening, testified that her son and daughter-in-law seemed deeply in love.

"David loved her very much," she said. "In 10 years, he never had a negative thing to say. He always talked about how creative, smart and loving she was. Clara loved him very much, too. Sometimes, I thought, she loved him too much."

After David Harris confessed his affair with his office receptionist to his wife, Mildred Harris said, Clara was "very nervous, very concerned about David.

"She didn't know what to do. She didn't know what not to do."

She said Clara Harris was "more like my own daughter," and told jurors she and her husband paid weekly visits to their twin 4-year-old grandsons, who live with their mother.

Gerald Harris said he had "somewhat" confronted his son about his illicit relationship with Gail Bridges.

"We did not think it was proper," he said, adding that after talking with his son, he thought the problem would be resolved.

Gerald Harris Jr., a psychology professor at the University of Houston, testified that his brother and Clara Harris seemed to have a "very good relationship" and were excellent parents.

In response to a question from Assistant District Attorney Mia Magness, the brother characterized the defendant as "always truthful" and as "the most law-abiding person I know."

Magness then revisited testimony that Clara Harris had lied to her husband about one of their twins being ill during a telephone conversation meant to flush him out of the Nassau Bay Hilton on the night he was killed.

She cited, too, the defendant's admission that she had trespassed on Bridges' property while looking for her husband, vandalized the woman's car and attacked her in the hotel lobby.

With each example of lawlessness, the witness' expression grew more intense.

"That's not appropriate behavior," he said at one point. "I don't approve of that kind of behavior," he noted on a second occasion.

But he stood by his assessment of his sister-in-law's character.

Before ending the primary defense presentation, co-counsel Dee McWilliams attempted to persuade Davies to allow questioning regarding a purported lesbian relationship between Bridges and another woman.

Defense lawyers believe Bridges and the woman were seeking to extract money from David Harris. Attempts to build such a case through questioning earlier died amid prosecution objections, and Davies rejected the effort to reopen the matter Monday.

As the prosecution launched its rebuttal, Houston police patrolman Rolando Saenz testified that his review of testimony and crime-scene data supports prosecutors' contention that David Harris was run over at least twice.

Noting that tire marks had been omitted from defense maps of the hotel parking lot, Saenz, who has more than two decades' experience investigating accidents, said defense witness Steve Irwin's death scenario "needs a lot of work."

He questioned accident reconstructionist Irwin's contention that a circle made by the Mercedes could be no smaller than 40 feet in diameter.

Saenz said the 40-foot diameter was measured from the car's center; measured from the tire, it would be 3 inches smaller. In repeated circling, that seemingly small difference could be crucial, he said.

Irwin also failed to account for the driver's ability to steer out of a true circle, Saenz said.

In addition to a blood stain on the auto's undercarriage, the officer testified that he found a rub mark, indicating the victim had been run over a second time.

Jurors also heard from Ashok Moza of Baytown, who was playing tennis across the street from the hotel at the time of David Harris' death.

Moza testified that he saw the Mercedes twice run over an object that he first thought was a duffel bag. Upon investigating, he said, he found the bag was a human being.

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