(NEW YORK) — Cal Harris is a man who knows what it feels like to be in the fight of his life. The millionaire upstate New York father of four who has been tried twice before for the 2001 killing of his wife, is back in court as jury selection in his third trial begins this week.
On the evening of Sept. 11, 2001 his wife Michele disappeared.
The next morning, as the country awoke to a world forever changed, Michele Harris’ van was found at the foot of the family’s driveway. According to his attorneys, police immediately focused on Cal Harris as a suspect. At the time of her disappearance Cal and Michele Harris had been in the midst of a bitter divorce.
“Law enforcement authorities have focused really exclusively on Cal and alleged that he caused her disappearance,” Cal Harris’ attorney, Bruce Barket, told ABC News.
After four years of investigating, authorities were unable to find Michele’s body or a murder weapon — even after extensive searches of Cal Harris’ 252-acre property in Tioga County, New York.
“I knew they were focusing on me,” Harris told ABC News. “I had been completely cooperative with them, turned over my house to them; let them come in my house without me being here. Whatever they asked for I gave them; phone records, financial information.”
Harris, now 53, says he was shocked by the charges when he was originally arrested in 2005.
“I knew the possibility was there,” he said. “[But] we knew there wasn’t any evidence, so we didn’t know how they could possibly get an indictment.”
In his first trial, prosecutors argued that blood found in the Harris home suggested Michele had been attacked by her husband.
A jury convicted Cal Harris of second-degree murder. But before sentencing, a new witness, Kevin Tubbs, who lived near Harris’ home, emerged.
Tubbs claimed to have seen two people arguing at the end of the Harris driveway in the early hours of Sept. 12, 2001. One he said looked like Michele and the other appeared to be a man in his 20s with dark hair. Cal Harris’ attorneys say Tubbs’ testimony disproves the prosecutor’s theory of the crime.
“Kevin Tubbs is not the only individual who saw the truck and two individuals — one woman, one man, at 5:30 in the morning, outside the Harris residence,” Barket said. “Another individual by the name of [John] Steele also made the same observations.”
Steele died of a heart attack in 2008, before Harris’ second trial. But in light of Kevin Tubbs testimony, the guilty verdict was thrown out and Harris was re-tried in 2009.
At his second trial, the jury once again found Harris guilty of killing his wife. This time, the verdict was thrown out by an appeals court. That court took issue with a juror who admitted during jury selection to having an opinion about the case. That juror said “that he was inclined to convict Cal, but thought he could keep an open mind,” Barket said.
Now, for a third time, a jury must decide: Did Cal Harris kill his wife Michele?
“Absolutely not,” Harris told ABC News. “Absolutely not. And the fact that I’m still sitting here having to go through this is a horror show. Judges on this case at every level have come forward and said this case can’t be proven.”
Harris’ attorneys hope to highlight other leads they believe were inadequately investigated by the police. And this time around they have already won an early victory, getting the third trial moved to Schoharie County, 120 miles from where Harris’ previous two trials were held. Attorneys say that Cal, a well-known car dealership owner and prominent figure in the community, was unable to get a fair trial in Tioga County, where the case was widely covered.
“What the jury will see when they take a look at the entire case is that the police investigation was wanting and that there were other leads that the police should have followed up on,” Barket said. “Had they followed those leads this case might actually be solved.”
In 2014, Harris’ four children Taylor, 20, Cayla, 19, Jenna, 17, and Tanner, 15, stepped into the spotlight for the first time, coming out in defense of their father and asking the public for new information in their mother’s disappearance.
“We feel like we need to tell people that he’s actually a really great guy and there’s no way he could have done something like this,” Cayla Harris told ABC News. “I have seen a lot of like the comments people write on articles and they say that they think that we’re brainwashed by our dad and that’s not true. We agreed ourselves to do this.”
The Harris children are so confident in their father’s innocence that they have never even asked him about that September night 13 years ago.
“[We] didn’t have to,” said Taylor Harris.
“We didn’t have any doubt he wasn’t involved,” Tanner Harris agreed.
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