The third murder trial of Cal Harris has ended in mistrial. The saga of this case, now spanning nearly 14 years, has burnt through millions of taxpayer and private dollars, hundreds of jurors spending tens of thousands of hours in difficult deliberations in three counties and shines a bright light on what happens when a justice system goes haywire.
Michelle Harris was last seen either on the evening of September 11, 2001 or the morning of September 12, depending on who you believe. While many people saw Michelle on the 11th., only one has come forward that claims to have seen her on the 12th., Kevin Tubbs, local farmer and Harris neighbor. Tubbs came forward after hearing that Cal had been found guilty, realizing that the time frame for Michelle’s disappearance, according to the prosecution, was at odds with Tubbs own observations. Not only did Tubbs testify to seeing Michelle on the early morning of the 12th, he also stated she was with a “young, clean-cut man”, standing together at the end of the Harris driveway, the very spot in which Michelle’s van was later found abandoned. Tubbs testimony caused Judge Martin Smith to vacate Harris’s guilty verdict in the trial.
The following facts are not in dispute.
Michelle Harris has seemingly disappeared. The Harris’s were in the midst of a contentious divorce at the time of her disappearance. Cal Harris is charged with her murder. No murder weapon has been identified. No body has been found. Both Michelle and Cal had extramarital affairs. It’s complicated.
The following statements, while not facts, are widely held as true.
Cal Harris was generally disliked in his hometown of Owego and Tioga County. The Harris family is rich while most Tiogians are poor. Original prosecutor and now Tioga county judge Gerald Keene saw the Harris case as his moment in the sun and took the proceedings personally. It became the Harris money against the will of Gerald Keene. Giant egos, political aspirations and machismo combined to forge a fight to the finish.
Michelle Harris could be on a beach in Madagascar. She could have walked away, fled or been carried away, we just don’t know. She could be dead at the hands of someone, anyone else, again we just don’t know. And all of that is not enough to assume
Cal Harris is a murderer. This is what Judge Martin Smith wrote in vacating the murder verdict of Harris in 2007. “The evidence at the trial of this case was entirely circumstantial. The proof of guilt, although legally sufficient, and establishing guilt to the jury’s satisfaction beyond a reasonable doubt, was far from overwhelming.”
“Overwhelming” should be the standard when you’re contemplating sending a man to prison for the rest of his life. If ever there was “reasonable doubt” in a case with no body, no weapon and complicated lives, this is it.
The ”system” ought to stand down on haunting Cal Harris and his family. A forth trial would be justice delivered by blunt force trauma.