CREDIT: Pat Sullivan, The Associated Press
Clara Harris testified in her own defence yesterday, recounting a devastating conversation she had with her husband just six days before she allegedly ran him over with her Mercedes. On the witness stand, she read from the notes of the conversation that she had made on cocktail napkins. They compared her physical attributes with those of his mistress.
On July 18 last year, Clara Harris sat in a Houston sports bar, frantically jotting notes as her husband described -- in demeaning detail -- how his wife of 10 years measured up to his new mistress, Gail Bridges.
Using cocktail napkins as a pad, Mrs. Harris split her scribbles into two columns: "Clara" and "Gail." At one point, she told a packed courtroom yesterday, she wrote "has big bubs" underneath Ms. Bridge's name. In her own column, she wrote "will have big bubs."
In the next few days, the 45-year-old quit her job as a dentist, scheduled liposuction and breast enlargement surgeries, visited a tanning salon and joined a gym.
Barely a week later, despite her best efforts "to change things for a better relationship," she caught her husband and the woman at a hotel -- the same hotel where the Harrises were married on Valentine's Day a decade earlier -- and ran him over with her Mercedes sedan.
Mrs. Harris, who is now on trial for murder, claims the entire incident was an accident. Prosecutors disagree, saying she even backed up to run over her husband a second time.
Despite this, she has won the support of her husband's parents, who have appeared in court to offer their support.
Yesterday, Mrs. Harris finally had a chance to give her version of events.
Her testimony had been abruptly halted on Wednesday afternoon after her lawyer, overcome with stress and suffering from the flu, fainted in the hallway outside the courtroom. He did not want his client to testify, but she had insisted.
Once on the stand, the former beauty queen in her native Colombia and successful dentist recounted how David, himself a successful orthodontist, compared the attributes of his wife and his lover.
According to a tearful Mrs. Harris, who at times read her napkin notes to the court, her 44-year-old husband had complained she was overweight, too talkative and addicted to her job. On the other hand, Ms. Bridges, his 39-year-old office manager, was "petite, with perfect fit to sleep holding her all night."
"How did you feel about that?" George Parnham, her lawyer, asked.
"I couldn't believe holding her all night," she responded. "We never slept like that."
However, Mr. Harris did compliment his wife on her "pretty feet" and beautiful eyes.
"Was that important to you?" Mr. Parnham asked.
"Yes," she said.
After that devastating conversation, Mrs. Harris said she committed herself to saving her marriage. She said her husband even appeared pleased with her efforts, especially the breast implants, and told her on July 24 he was going to break up with Ms. Bridges that day.
It appeared, however, he wanted one last fling.
Later in the day, Mrs. Harris received a phone call from Blue Moon, the private investigation agency she had hired to keep an eye on her wandering spouse: Mr. Harris and Ms. Bridges had been seen checking in to the Nassau Bay Hilton Inn, where they paid cash for a room on the fourth or sixth floor.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. "I just couldn't believe it."
Driving with Lindsey Harris, her husband's daughter from his first marriage, Mrs. Harris pulled into the hotel parking lot, where, after an hour of intense searching, she noticed Ms. Bridges's black Lincoln Navigator.
"I grabbed the windshield wiper in the back and bent it so many times," she testified in between sobs. "It was so painful in my hand, but it was more painful in my heart."
Then she walked in to the hotel lobby, where she found her husband holding hands with Ms. Bridges near an elevator. After a violent confrontation with the pair, she was escorted out of the building by a security guard.
On her way out the door, she decided to do a little more damage to Ms. Bridges's SUV.
With her stepdaughter in the front seat, she reversed her silver Mercedes-Benz toward the Navigator. Her husband had been standing there, but she said she was convinced he had run away.
"I closed my eyes," she said yesterday. "After that, I didn't know who was driving. Everything was like a dream."
When she opened the door and turned around, she saw Mr. Harris, the father of her twin sons, lying on the ground.
"I held his face," she said. "There was a small line of blood from his ear. His eyes were half open. He seemed to be going in and out of consciousness."
She said she could do little but put her hand on his heart and check his pulse.
"Everything was in such a slow motion," she testified. "Nothing made sense. What was David doing there?"
The whole scene was captured on videotape by Mrs. Harris's private detective.
All that needs to be determined now is whether Mrs. Harris actually meant to kill her husband, turning, as a prosecutor said in an opening statement, her Mercedes "into a 4,000-pound murder weapon."
Her stepdaughter has already testified Mrs. Harris was "very determined" to hit her husband. Another witness who was at the hotel corroborated her story.
"I believe I said, 'Lindsey, who did this?' "Julie Creger testified.
After Lindsey said "my stepmom," Mrs. Creger asked her another question.
"I said, 'Sweetie, did she mean to do this?' " Mrs. Creger said. "She said, 'Yes.' "
Mrs. Harris, who faces between five and 99 years in prison if convicted, has yet to be cross-examined.