Posted on Sat, Feb. 22, 2003

Trial reveals double standard


Jay Leno was telling some pretty funny jokes the other day about Clara Harris' cheating husband - you know, the cad she ran over a few times.

Leno announced possible new movies based on the story.

One was, "Riding Over Boys in Cars."

Then there was this: "Dude, You're Under My Car."

I have to admit, I laughed out loud.

And hey, how about this for some humor: Say it was a husband who drove over his wife as she tried to run.

Here are some pretty funny movies that could be based on that scenario.

Like maybe, "Runover Bride."

Or how about, "Terminate Her."

It's fun to come up with new ways to say, "kill a woman."

Actually, it isn't.

So why is it fine to chuckle about a woman murdering her husband?

In other words, there's a double standard in the Clara Harris case.

On one hand, most people I know think the woman deserves prison. On the other, there is the implication that David Harris kind of brought this on himself.

"What an idiot," I've heard people say about the husband having had an affair with his receptionist. He has all but been branded a moral criminal.

Here's the beginning of a typical lead sentence in a story about the case: "Clara Harris, the woman convicted of murdering her cheating husband ..." Search the Internet and you'll find hundreds of stories with that phrase. If the husband had been the killer, would we constantly be saying he ran down "his cheating wife" - to make it clear she was guilty, too?

Even the prosecutor felt she had to address this in her closing statement.

"For heaven's sake," the prosecutor said, "if a man is cheating on you, do what every other woman in this county does - take him to the cleaners. Take his house. Take his car. Take his kids. Take his respect in the community and you can make him wish he were dead. But you don't get to kill him."

Let's flip the prosecutor's statement around. A man has murdered his wife because she had an affair. Is a prosecutor really going to say, "He should have just taken her kids"? As if - short of blatant abuse or neglect - either parent is justified in "taking the kids" from the other.

After the verdict, friends of Clara Harris rushed to microphones to blast the jury. After all, they said, she's a good mother with two young sons who need her. How could the court break up a family?

Somehow, if a man murdered his wife while her daughter watched, I doubt we'd be hearing that he's a great father.

Lucky for Clara Harris, she might get parole in 10 years. That's because the jurors determined she acted out of "sudden passion," making the murder a lesser crime.

Do you think people would call it "sudden passion" if a man floored his 4,000-pound Mercedes and repeatedly ran over his wife? I think we'd be hearing the word "premeditated" instead.

I expect Clara Harris jokes will continue for a bit. Here's one more idea for a movie title on the case, courtesy of Leno:

"Boyz on the Hood."

That was my favorite.

Next time a husband murders his wife, maybe we'll have a sequel called, "Girlz on the Hood."

It'll be a real laugh.

Contact Mark Patinkin at

© 2003 Tallahassee Democrat and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.