Friday, February 14, 2003 Print This | Email This     

Texas dentist to get 20 years for 'Mercedes murder'

By Matt Bean, Court TV

A Texas woman who murdered her husband with a Mercedes Benz after catching him in a tryst was sentenced to 20 years Friday after a jury decided the killing was an act of "sudden passion."

Clara Harris threw her head back in anguish upon hearing the verdict, and buried her head in her arms as her lawyers comforted her.

She could have spent up to 99 years in prison for the July 24, 2002, killing. But the jury, which convicted her on Thursday of murder, decided she acted in the heat of the moment, reducing the sentencing range to between two and 20 years.

Harris, 45, confronted her husband, orthodontist David Harris, in the lobby of a Houston hotel with his mistress and receptionist, Gail Bridges. The altercation spilled into the parking lot, where Clara Harris rammed her husband with her luxury sedan and then circled around to hit him again.

The jury of nine women and three men spent Friday deliberating after lawyers delivered their closing arguments in the punishment phase. They found Harris guilty of murder on Thursday, sidestepping the lesser included options of manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide.

Harris' stepdaughter, Lindsey Harris, was in the Mercedes Benz the night of the murder. She testified during the trial that Harris said "I'm going to hit him" before stepping on the gas pedal of the late-model sedan.

Lindsey Harris was the only witness brought by the state Thursday in the post-conviction punishment phase of the trial. She said the experience sent her into a deep depression and that she even tried to commit suicide twice by slitting her wrists.

Clara Harris, no stranger to showing emotion in the courtroom, began sobbing at her stepdaughter's disclosure. She called out "I'm sorry, baby" as jurors were led from the courtroom. Her outburst was admonished by Judge Carol G. Davies.

On Friday, Harris' defense attorney George Parnham appealed to jurors to keep his client out of jail so that she could continue to care for her two young boys. And he reminded them that they would begin their deliberations on Valentine's Day, the 11th anniversary of Harris' marriage. The lawyer even twice attempted to ask rhetorically, "What would David Harris want?" - both times drawing a strident, and successful, objection from prosecutor, Mia Magness.

"You're not being asked to punish who she was or who she's gonna be... you're being asked to punish her conduct," said Magness in her argument. "I'm not suggesting to you that she shouldn't recieve probation because she's a good person. Her conduct of July 24th is what you should base your decision on."

A last minute bid by the defense for a mistrial because the court reporter was crying during closing arguments of the punishment phase was rejected by Judge Davis. "I think there are people all over this courtroom who cried, including jurors," said Davies.