HoustonChronicle.com


Feb. 13, 2003, 9:24AM

Harris jurors given 4 options on verdict

By ALLAN TURNER
Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle

Clara Harris may have been furious at her cheating husband, but she didn't have the right to kill him, prosecutor Mia Magness told jurors Wednesday in final arguments in Harris' murder trial.

"David Harris' affair was immoral and wrong, but the solution was to get divorced," said Magness, an assistant district attorney. "She should do like every other woman in Harris County and take him to the cleaners.

"Get his house, car, kids -- make him wish he was dead. But you don't get to kill him."

Jurors in the three-week-long trial began deliberating about noon and stopped shortly before 7 p.m., when they were taken to the downtown hotel where they are being sequestered. They will return today to continue weighing whether to acquit the 45-year-old mother of two or convict her of murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide.

The two lesser charges were provided as options Wednesday morning when state District Judge Carol G. Davies read the jury her charge, an explanation of the law as it applies to this case.

Late in the afternoon, jurors asked that testimony from the defendant, concerning her statements to police after her arrest, be read to them. In question were statements that Harris had wanted to separate her husband from his mistress and that she wanted to hurt him.

The Lake Jackson dentist is accused of deliberately running over her husband outside a Clear Lake-area hotel on July 24 after finding him with his mistress. If convicted of murder, she faces the possibility of life in prison.

Lead defense attorney George Parnham told jurors his client loved her husband and, though she had suffered "deceptions upon deceptions," never meant to kill him.

"Had she intended to kill David, her husband, would she ever have taken her stepdaughter with her?" Parnham asked. "It never would have been imagined."

Trial testimony revealed that the 17-year-old stepdaughter, Lindsey Harris -- a key prosecution witness -- spent most of July 24 with Clara Harris and was in her Mercedes-Benz when it struck and killed the Clear Lake orthodontist.

Parnham argued that Harris would not have been able to see her husband, who was standing outside his lover's sport utility vehicle in the parking lot of the Nassau Bay Hilton, in time to stop.

As she circled him while he lay on the pavement, Parnham said, alluding to scenes captured on videotape by a private investigator, the circles grew progressively tighter.

"After the third circle, she parks right next to the body," he said. "She kneels next to David and begs him to stay with her. And you know, the turns missed him."

Parnham reminded jurors of testimony from David Harris' mother, father and brother, all of whom agreed that Clara Harris loved her husband.

"They had a beautiful marriage," he said. "A marriage made in heaven until someone knocks on the door of the home and someone knocks on the heart of the family. Gail Bridges is a home wrecker. ... I'm not up here to vilify David Harris. This woman still loves him. I'm not here to vilify David Harris in the mind of Lindsey. He's her father. But he made bad choices, folks, bad decisions."

Parnham cited his client's testimony in detailing the insult, humiliation and repeated betrayals she suffered from her husband. He reminded jurors of testimony that David Harris spent time with his mistress on important family holidays, sometimes staying in a hotel through whose windows he had a clear view of the place where he had been married.

And he emphasized David Harris' July 18 meeting with his wife in which he compared her physical and intellectual attributes with those of his lover.

But Magness said, "It boils down to the fact that she acted on anger and frustration, and a man is dead on account of it."

The prosecutor questioned the value of Clara Harris' testimony, saying that hours were devoted to details of her husband's affair and her adverse reaction to it.

"But she spent less than five minutes talking about what happened when she got behind the wheel of the car," she said. "And that was, `I don't remember. I remember that I didn't do it.' That wasn't very helpful ...

"The bottom line is, there's one thing the defendant did tell you: Lindsey was a truth-teller. Remember? Lindsey always tells the truth."

Lindsey Harris, Magness reminded jurors, testified that her stepmother had vowed to "hit" her husband seconds before she stomped on the accelerator and sped in his direction.

Magness, whose questioning frequently became pugnacious during the trial, also reminded jurors of eyewitnesses who testified that David Harris was run over two or more times. She cited the testimony of a county medical examiner who said autopsy evidence did not support the defense's one-runover scenario.

Magness told jurors that Parnham and his co-counselors had developed three strategies to defend their client: an accident theory, vilification of David Harris and a "just lost it" scenario.

Texas law makes no provision for an accident defense, she said, and the cheating husband had been the subject of hours of critical testimony.

As for the third possibility, Magness said: "Just lost it -- that's what murder is. It's the momentary loss of respect for human life and taking it. Did she lose it? You bet."

Magness recalled the defendant's reaction when she learned of her spouse's affair on July 17.

"She slapped him, but it wasn't enough. She had to punish him, so she ripped off his toupee."

A similar scene developed at the hotel when she found her husband in the company of his lover, the prosecutor said.

"Faced with the truth, she attacked," Magness said. "But it wasn't enough to hit him; she had to punish him. So she ran over him again and again. No doubt, she was sorry when she was done.

"The bottom line is this: She got mad, engaged in reckless, knowing conduct and David is dead because of it. Though you've heard her called a good mother, a loving spouse, a good dentist, at this point it's time to call her what she is.

"And that's a murderer."



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