For more than 15 years and through three trials by jury, Cal Harris has maintained that he didn’t kill his wife on September 11, 2001.
On Thursday, Harris will stand trial for the fourth time for the killing of his estranged wife, Michele. This time, there will be no jury.
His defense team believes new evidence and a “neutral and fair magistrate,” will get him acquitted, said Donna Aldea, one of his defense attorneys.
Michele Harris’ body has not been found, nor has a murder weapon. But prosecutors suggest he struck her when she arrived at her home in upstate New York that night, then got rid of the body and the weapon.
They charged him with second degree murder in 2005.
The trials that followed resulted in two convictions that didn’t stick, then a mistrial.
Harris thinks the difference in this trial will be a “neutral and fair magistrate, who can get him acquitted. He thinks this is his best bet,” Aldea said, adding that Harris had requested a jury waiver after his first trial but it was denied.
Aldea said new evidence would be entered for this trial: items found in an outdoor fire pit at a home near the Harrises’ home that was once owned by Stacy Stewart.
Stewart, an ex-boyfriend of Michele, was last seen with her the day she went missing, the defense claims.
Harris’ lawyer Bruce Barket said they found a bra strap, charred fabric that matched the color of clothing that Michele was last seen in, buttons and more in the pit.
Stewart could not be reached by CNN for comment Wednesday.
The Harris family
Cal and Michele Harris were raising their four children in their upstate New York home, which sits on a 200 acre estate in Tioga County.
Despite living together at the time she disappeared, the two were leading separate lives while finalizing their divorce.
One of the assets to be contemplated in the divorce: Harris’ $5.4 million net worth.
Barket told CNN in 2015 that this was not a motive for murder.
“The divorce was ending on friendly terms and ending on Cal’s terms,” Barket said.
Michele was last seen around 11 p.m. on September 11, 2001. The next morning, Harris noticed that Michele hadn’t made it home and called the family’s nanny, who found Michele’s car at the end of the driveway.
Harris, owner of a number of car dealerships, went to work.
“When he woke up that morning he thought Michele was just with her boyfriend or was out drinking as she had done on numerous occasions before,” Barket said.
In 2007, the jury of the first trial convicted Harris of second degree murder.
Five months later, a judge overturned the verdict after a man came forward claiming he saw Michele Harris with another man in her driveway the morning after prosecutors alleged Cal Harris killed her.
“There’s a man at the back of the pickup, there’s a woman at the side of the pickup. It’s the woman I believe was Michele Harris,” Kevin Tubbs, the witness, told CBS’ “48 Hours.”
Two years later, Harris went on trial a second time. That jury also convicted him.
After Harris served about four years in prison, the New York Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, agreeing with Harris’ defense team that one juror had a preconceived notion about the case.
Harris then hired a team of lawyers to launch an investigation to find out one thing: What happened to Michele Harris?
“He asked us to do one thing the police didn’t: solve the case,” Barket told reporters in 2014. “He hired a team of lawyers, a team of investigators, he’s literally spending his last dollars to try and figure out what happened to Michele Harris.”
At the same press conference, the eldest Harris daughter, Kayla, spoke on behalf of her siblings, who stood by their father.
“We need to know what really happened to our mother, we know that our dad had nothing to do with her disappearance,” Kayla said. A tip line was opened for people to phone in any information they might have not spoken to authorities about for more than a decade.
Last year, Harris’ third trial was declared a mistrial when the jury could not agree on guilt or innocence.
The defense could not argue double jeopardy in any of the trials because Harris was never exonerated of a charge, Barket said.
Harris spoke to the media in 2014: “I did not have any involvement in Michele’s disappearance. I would never hurt the mother of my children and I would never do anything to hurt them.”