Jury Convicts Texas Dentist of Murder
HOUSTON (AP) _ The woman who ran down her philandering husband with a Mercedes-Benz after catching him with his mistress was convicted of murder Thursday by a jury that rejected her claim she was aiming for his lover’s car.
Clara Harris stood stoically as the verdict was read, her lawyer’s arms around her. The 45-year-old dentist faces up to life in prison when she is sentenced, though the punishment could be reduced if jurors decide she acted with ``sudden passion.″
Court reconvened about a half-hour later for the sentencing phase. Both sides are allowed to present witnesses.
Jurors deliberated for just eight hours over two days before reaching the verdict. Two of them cried as state District Judge Carol Davies read it in court.
The trial was front-page news in Houston and included dramatic testimony from Harris, her romantic rival and her stepdaughter, who was in the car that day and told jurors her stepmother sped toward her father as he desperately tried to get out of the way. The parents of the victim, David Harris, took the stand, too _ to testify in support of their daughter-in-law.
Harris insisted the death last July was an accident and that she only wanted to damage the black Lincoln Navigator belonging to her husband’s receptionist turned lover, Gail Bridges.
She told jurors she wanted to save her 10-year marriage after learning of the affair. She said she quit her job, had sex with her husband three times a night, cooked his favorite meals and hired a personal trainer.
She also testified she even went to a tanning salon and scheduled liposuction and breast enhancement surgery to make him happy, only to catch him in a tryst with Bridges at the same hotel where the Harrises were married on Valentine’s Day 1992. David Harris was killed in the hotel parking lot moments later.
Prosecutors called a half-dozen witnesses who said they watched in disbelief as Harris ran over her husband at least twice. David Harris’ tooth, found on the pavement next to his head, was introduced as evidence, as were autopsy photos showing what a pathologist said were tire tracks across the body of the 44-year-old orthodontist.
``I wasn’t sure if what I was seeing was real,″ said one tearful witness, Chris Junco. ``The whole scene was very mad.″
Perhaps the most powerful witness was David Harris’ daughter, 17-year-old Lindsey Harris, who was in Mercedes.
``She stepped on the accelerator and went straight for him,″ Lindsey Harris told jurors. ``He was really scared. He was trying to get away and he couldn’t.″
The teenager said she never thought her stepmother would act on a comment that she could kill David Harris and get away with it. She said her stepmother made the remark just after finding him with Bridges.
``I knew she had killed my dad,″ Lindsey Harris testified. ``She said, ‘I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. It was an accident.’
``She knew what she did and she wasn’t sorry.″
Defense and prosecution experts disagreed on how many times David Harris was struck. A defense expert said Harris was hit by the luxury sedan, carried atop its hood and then run over. A prosecution expert said Clara Harris hit her husband and then circled, running over him at least two times. Clara Harris said many of the events were a ``dream″ to her.
The death came a week after David Harris confessed to his nearly three-month affair with Bridges. The Harrises, who also were business partners, then spent an evening at a bar talking about their relationship.
According to bar napkin notes kept by Clara Harris, David Harris thought his wife was overweight, dominated conversations and was a workaholic, all in contrast to Bridges. While he gave his wife higher marks for ``prettier″ hands, feet and eyes, he described his 39-year-old receptionist, a former beauty queen, as ``petite″ and ``the perfect fit to sleep with, holding her all night.″
Clara Harris said that remark stunned her.
``I couldn’t believe he could sleep holding her all night because we had never slept like that _ never,″ she testified.
Recalling the day of the accident, Clara Harris wept as she said ``everything seemed like a dream.″ She confronted the lovers in the hotel lobby and brawled with Bridges before returning to her car.
``I was in so much pain; it was a physical pain that I was feeling. I wasn’t thinking anything,″ Harris testified. ``Suddenly, I thought about smashing my car against her car and then I (picked) up speed.″
Harris said she saw three figures near Bridges’ Navigator. Two dodged right, she said, but her husband moved left, toward her approaching Mercedes. She said she glimpsed her husband: ``I saw some surprised eyes.″
But she denied trying to run him down and said she didn’t recall hitting him. ``I think I closed my eyes″ just before impact, she testified.
Harris said she snapped out of her daze as her stepdaughter screamed for her to stop. She got out and saw her husband lying on the pavement, blood streaming from his ears and mouth.