There's a sprawling patch of wilderness in upstate New York, just over the Pennsylvania border. A couple of hundred acres owned by a prosperous local family. It's a wild patch alright -- a lake, dense woods, isolation, wind and sky.
Gary Taylor: There's probably places up there that people haven't walked on in ten years.
Its a little piece of paradise... And, perhaps, a particular corner of hell.
Gary Taylor: You dig a little shallow grave. Nobody would ever know it. And nobody would ever see it.
Is she in here somewhere? Can the woods ever tell him?
Gary Taylor: I want Michele back.
He knows by now, of course, that you don't always get what you want. No matter who you are. Or what you say.
Merry Harris: He feels very strongly and he said from the very beginning that he is an innocent man.
But here is what we can tell you, the one thing we know for sure: a person now living is aware of every detail. Knows very well if she's out here on this wild patch of land. But as we start, the bare bones of it will have to do, and it's a mystery: the house belongs to a successful car dealer named Calvin Harris, his wife Michele, and their four young children. It was September. Upstate New York, early morning. Cal Harris woke up and his wife wasn't home. She'd gone to work the evening before, didn't come back. Merry Harris is Cal's aunt.
Merry Harris: He didn't know where she was. And--
Keith Morrison, NBC News: It was just--
Merry Harris: --didn't know what had happened.
She was gone. Gone without warning. Her friends, distraught, called her cell phone.
Voicemail: Where the hell are you? You need to call me as soon as freaking possible. I am worried to death about you.
They heard her cheery cell phone message. Haunting now.
Hi, this is Michele. Leave me your name and number and I'll call you back as soon as I can.
Michele, Bob Miller, where the -- what's going on here?
Gary Taylor, Michele's dad heard the news from his son.
Gary Taylor: Greg came up and said "Geez, Michele's missing," or something. And I said, “Like what do you mean, missing?” And he said "Well, I don't know. Nobody knows."
Merry is the director of economic development in the nearby city of Binghamton. She called Cal once she found out.
Merry Harris: And said, "God, I don't know what's happened. But, you know if there's something we can do -- if there's something -- can we help with you with the kids?" Shall we come out, what should, whatever.
There is something else about this you should know: The night Michele Harris vanished was not just any night. It was Sept. 11, 2001.
Sue Mulvey: Things were in some kind of disarray.
So they were. And so, nobody was paying much attention to the disturbing events up here around little Owego, New York.
Sue Mulvey: Troopers have all been sent to New York City. There's a skeleton crew left at all the stations.
Sue Mulvey is a senior investigator with the New York state police. It was she who took the call reporting that Michele was missing first thing Sept. 12.
Keith Morrison: What'd you do?
Sue Mulvey: I sent two investigators over to talk to Calvin Harris. And I sent a uniformed trooper up to the house.
Cal Harris met the investigators at his car dealership, took them back to his house opened it up to them.
Merry Harris: He said, “Whatever you need. Look wherever you need to look. You have carte blanche. I want this to be solved. I want to know what happened.”
And that's how tragedy came calling on Tioga County. Banging on the door actually, though few realized it at the time. Certainly not senior investigator Sue Mulvey. How could she guess then that this investigation would demand her attention for the better part of eight years? On Sept. 12, 2001, Investigator Mulvey knew only this: She had a missing-person case on her hands and with luck it would resolve itself speedily -- as many do.
Sue Mulvey: We kept hoping as everyone did that Michele would call her attorney or call her house or call one of her friends and show up.
Michele's dad was hoping too. Hoping and waiting.
Gary Taylor: I kept thinking that she's gonna come walking in the door at any given time.
Merry says Cal, for his part, was completely focused on his four children.
Merry Harris: His thing was, "Okay, it's time for them to go to school. All right --now it's time for me to pick them up. If this is the routine that is normal for them, we're gonna keep them in that routine.
But where was their mother? Here was a clue, and it didn't look good: Michele's van had been left at the foot of the long driveway leading up to her house out here on that big country lot. The keys were still in the ignition. But where was Michele? Mulvey's investigators – video camera in hand - poked around inside the house, looking for ...well, they didn't know quite what they were looking for. Clues of some sort. Outside, those 200 plus acres to look through. And the lake behind the house: Empire Lake. Along with the rambling, rural properties nearby.
Sue Mulvey: That area was homesteaded heavily in the 1800's. So there's a lot of laid-up wells and old foundations and things like that.
Keith Morrison: Didn't find anything.
Sue Mulvey: No, we didn't.
Not at first. And not outside. But then they did.
Investigator Steve Andersen: I-- entered the residence through the open garage door.
It was two days after michele harris vanished. Senior Investigator Steve Andersen of the New York state police made a surprise discovery.
Investigator Steve Andersen: I noticed-- blood stains on the floor and on the moldings of the doorway that led out to the garage.
And on the garage floor? More blood. Minute amounts, under paint chips and lodged in scratches.
Investigator Steve Andersen: The blood had evidence of cleanup there. Some of it had been partially diluted.
And there was more blood, tiny stains -- dozens of them -- on a kitchen carpet. There wasn't very much -- but all of it appeared to come from one person.
Investigator Steve Andersen: Everything on the floor, on the inside walls, and on the carpet came back to being Michele's blood.
Suddenly the case looked very different.
Sue Mulvey: Then we knew we had a real problem.
Instead of a missing person case, investigators knew they were now looking at a possible homicide. But usually in homicides there's a body. Or a murder weapon, or at least a motive. Who in the world would want to kill Michele Harris?
Sue Mulvey: He had made statements to her that he would kill her, he would never be prosecuted and her body would never be found.
New York state police investigator Sue Mulvey needed to know everything she could about Michele Harris, the young mother of four who she felt sure had been killed. Some things were obvious. Michele was 35, vibrant, popular, attractive, and married to a weathy man. Would she have taken off on her own -- without warning?
Sue Mulvey: The clear picture that we developed is that Michele would never leave her children ever. Ever.
Now investigators pored over the last occasions Michelle was seen by anyone. And this, at first blush, may have seemed odd: This wealthy car dealer's wife, had taken a job at a restaurant and bar as a waitress. And that's where she was the night of Sept. 11. She finished her shift, investigators learned, at about 9. Then she had drinks at the restaurant bar with two co-workers. Then she drove to a male friend's apartment and left there about 11. That's the last time anybody saw her. Clearly there was something going on in the life of Michele Harris. How frequently things turn out to be not quite what they seem on the placid, public surface.
Sue Mulvey: They have what would appear to be an idyllic life and a beautiful home and beautiful children.
Certainly Cal and Michele got off to a storybook start -- a pretty young woman from modest means meets the son of a well-to-do family that owned half a dozen car dealerships. It was the late 1980's and Michele Taylor, fresh from college, was answering phones at one of the Harris family dealerships. That's where the two met. By all accounts, Cal Harris fell hard for her -- and who wouldn't? Gary Taylor says his daughter always had a sunny personality.
Gary Taylor: She was bubbly. She was my best audience. I could say anything. And her and my niece would laugh and --
Keith Morrison: You'd tell stories?
Gary Taylor: Yeah. I could say anything and they'd laugh. Probably half the time, they were laughing at me, but the other half I hope they were laughing at the story.
Michele's dad says she fell hard too -- and her new beau treated her well.
Gary Taylor: He won some dealership thing and they went to Switzerland, I think.
Keith Morrison: Wow.
Gary Taylor: Yeah. You know, I mean, there was a lot of perks there that she'd never had before, so.
Cal Harris, for his part, wasn't just a wealthy hot shot. He was a highly accomplished athlete -- a lacrosse star in high school and an all-American player in college. And, says his aunt Merry Harris, he had a sunny side too.
Merry Harris: He was always a very positive kind of optimistic person. Or certainly that's normally his nature. Intense. Very active. You know, curious about things. Interested in, you know, interested in all kinds of conversation.
In august 1990, Michele and Cal got married beside Empire Lake, on the Harris family property.
Merry Harris: They were there with their friends - they had you know a whole group of young friends who were rockin’ and rollin’ and, you know, just enjoying themselves.
The happy days rolled on; the kids kept coming.
Gary Taylor: I remember at the beginning you know she'd stay home with the kids and then she'd drive in and bring him his lunch and stuff at work.
Keith Morrison: Close family.
Gary Taylor: --just a perfect little family or whatever.
And an active family. By 1992, when the couple built their house on Empire Lake and settled there, everybody was in motion all the time it seemed -- fishing, swimming, skating -- with Michele herself an eager participant.
Merry Harris: Whatever we're gonna do, I'm up for it, you know. You jump on the jet ski. Jump on the --
Keith Morrison: Sure.
Merry Harris: --four-wheeler.
Keith Morrison: wasn't a dainty wee thing as it were.
Merry Harris: Right, right. I mean, their personalities to me seemed to really mesh.
Remote as the house was, Michele seemed happy there, filling the place with family and friends at every opportunity.
Gary Taylor: “Come on up, we're gonna” --"Well, what's the occasion?" "Just cause it's Sunday. Come on up."
There were certainly frictions in the Harris marriage. He loved order. She? Not so much.
Gary Taylor: She had a room downstairs and she called it the chuck room. If there was gonna be a party or a picnic or whatever, she'd throw it and "Take it down in the chuck room".
And, she told friends and family, he had a temper -- and a controlling way. And sometimes he could be frightening. Once, back in 1996, she called her sister-in law from a closet, terrified.
Gary Taylor: He was- had the gun outside the closet and she was inside hiding.
Keith Morrison: What'd you hear about that?
Gary Taylor: He was out there with a pump gun. I guess. And he was racking the pump action up and down. And telling her to come out.
Then in 1999, Michele learned her husband was having an affair. She was devastated -- but not ready to end the marriage. And Cal said he wasn't either.
Gary Taylor: Michele said, “You know we can work through this, but you know, you got to get rid of the girl.” She worked up at the Cortland dealership.
They did what they could to salvage their fraying union. Didn't work. They stayed in the house both of them. They shared the parenting duties, but they were living separate lives. She told her family he cut off her spending money. She took up with a young man; that was November 2000. Then December, a month later, she told him she wanted a divorce and according to her family he didn't take it well. There was an argument. Her dad heard about it later -- along with some other disturbing incidents.
Gary Taylor: Was rough to her or something. And I'd say, "did you want to take one of my guns and stuff" "Well no, it's not that bad or whatever.
Still, she began to take notes about what she said was his abusive behavior -- when he called her names, when he got physical. She removed his guns from the house, took them to her brother's place. She won a temporary order of protection against him. And despite the unpleasantness, negotiated for a settlement. Made plans to buy a house in town . Move with the kids.
Sue Mulvey: She had been concerned for quite awhile as their relationship deteriorated that -- that Cal would kill her, and her body would never be found.
So now the fact that she was spending time out of the house, away from Cal, and earning her own money as a waitress, began to make more sense, as did the visit to the young man after work. Investigators spoke to the boyfriend, of course...and others. But:
Sue Mulvey: We did a lot of work on a lot of different people early on. And it wasn't until they were eliminated and then we learned more and more about Calvin that he became the focus.
Calvin and the big family property, that is...
Sue Mulvey: We were up in that area non-stop for a great - a great deal of time, dogs, helicopters, police cars.
They kept at it. And found nothing. Nonetheless, four years after Michele Harris disappeared, in September 2005, the Tioga County D.A. Decided it was time to act. Cal Harris was charged with his wife's murder. The D.A. was going to take the case to trial, even though there was no body. No murder weapon. And even though he himself was by no means convinced he could prevail.
Gerald Keene: I thought that it was maybe a 50/50 shot at a conviction.
It was September 2005. They'd been looking for Michele Harris for four years. And had found ... Nothing. Cal Harris spent those years dodging questions. Where was his wife? What happened to her? He found solace at home, with the kids.
Merry Harris: Their dad was always a very active involved dad with them. The children respect one another. They respect him -- and his judgment.
But the Tioga County district attorney had become convinced that cal killed his wife late on the night 9/11. And, while the children slept, disposed of her body.
Gerald Keene: The more I met with witnesses, the more convinced I became that he really did this and that we should present it and see what happens.
Four years after Michele Harris vanished, he had as much as he believed he would ever get. The prosecutor rolled the dice. Cal Harris was charged with second-degree murder.
Gerald Keene: Even though there were problems with the case, still there was a lot of circumstantial evidence that pointed to him.
A case without a body, based largely on circumstantial evidence can be a tough sell: The prosecutor has to persuade a jury that lots of little things add up to one big thing. In this case, he would tell the jury that only one person was known to have threatened Michele. Only one person was known to have had any kind of motive. And, only one person had access to the house -- where the only physical evidence in the case was found--Michele's blood.
The trial opened at the Tioga County courthouse in the town of Owego in May 2007. The prosecutor began by building a portrait of Cal Harris. That he had a temper. That he was controlling.
Gerald Keene: He's in control of his businesses, he's in control of his wife, he's in control of his finances, his employees and his children.
And Cal's own family members described how Michele said he'd threatened her.
Gerald Keene: What he said to her was, “I wouldn't need a gun to kill you and if I did kill you, they'll never find your body.”
Keith Morrison: Well/in the heat of passion people say terrible things to each other. Doesn't mean they kill them though.
Gerald Keene: But he went beyond saying terrible things to her. He told her that he would put her body in a place where it would never be found. And that's like one of the biggest facts of the case -- that we've looked and looked and looked for this woman's body, and have not been able to find it.
To tell the story of the morning after Michele vanished, to point suspicion at Cal's behavior that day, the prosecutor called the Harris family babysitter, a woman named Barb Thayer. Cal called her Sept. 12. Early -- about 7 am. Told her Michele hadn't come home. Asked her to come over and help with the kids. She was the first to discover Michele's van in the driveway.
Gerald Keene: She gets to the house, she goes into the house and she yells "Is Michelle here? Because her car's at the end of the driveway." And the defendant, without missing a beat, just says to her, "Well, we better go down and get the car."
The babysitter says Cal didn't seem surprised to hear Michele's van was there. Didn't ask her to describe what she'd seen.
Gerald Keene: Doesn't ask her any questions about the keys like he knows that the keys are in the van already.
Keith Morrison: But this is an interpretation of a person's reaction.
Gerald Keene: Yeah, you're right. But it's all these hundreds of little things that convinced me that he's just not acting like someone would act if they didn't know what had happened to their wife.
Later that morning when New York state troopers talked to Cal, they too made note of his demeanor.
Sue Mulvey: He seemed kind of unconcerned. He was more concerned about getting Michele's van cleaned up and putting it back on the lot.
One more note about Cal's behavior that struck the prosecutor as passing strange. Something for the jury to ponder.
Gerald Keene: He never contacted a single person at any time to either advise them that Michelle was missing or to ask if they had heard anything from Michelle, other than his attorney.
Now to motive. Why would a man who'd never killed before, kill now? For the same old reason, the prosecutor argued, that others have -- money. Especially because divorce was in the wings. Cal had learned Michele was demanding an appraisal of the car business, which, according to the prosecutor, was worth a couple of million dollars.
Gerald Keene: All of a sudden, everything is out of his control.
So, the argument went, if Michele disappeared, Cal's problems did too.
Sue Mulvey: On Sept. 11, 2001, he was gonna have his finances scrutinized. He was perhaps not gonna be able to stay in the marital residence. Certainly his children are leaving. And the next day, all those things are back in his control.
Finally, that blood evidence. Prosecution witnesses called it medium-velocity spatter -- which can be indicative of violence. It was the only forensic business in the whole case.
Steve Andersen: I think it could very well have been the most important part of the case as far as placing Michele -- bleeding in the house, with some force having been applied to that blood and no explanation for it.
Maybe so. Or maybe not. Remember, it wasn't discovered for several days after Michele disappeared.
Keith Morrison: I can see a good defense attorney having a field day with the fact that your guys, the cops, were walking all over the blood in the garage for days.
Gerald Keene: They walked through the garage, but there was no testimony from anyone in the case that the scene was altered in any way.
So what happened that night? Prosecutor Keene put his theory to the jury.
Gerald Keene: She got home that night at about 11:30 and as soon as she got inside the house, she was struck with something by the defendant.
She went down on the kitchen carpet, was struck again. That blood spatter.
Gerald Keene: He got Mrs. Harris up off the carpet took her back out into the garage and laid her down on the garage floor.
Then the cleanup. And disposal of the body.
Gerald Keene: He would have then taken the car back down to the end of the driveway, walked back up to the house, and disposed of the body during the seven hours or thereabouts before he called Mrs. Thayer.
The defense attorneys tried to swat it all down. There was no body, no murder weapon. And the forensics? Unconvincing at best. But jurors weren't having it. In early June 2007, they came back with a guilty verdict. Cal Harris broke down.
Merry Harris: I have never heard more anguished cries in my life, and nor would I ever want to hear anything like that again than Cal's just sobbing.
For Michele's family, it was justice accomplished.
Keith Morrison: Is there a corner of your brain that thinks, god, maybe it was somebody else?
Gary Taylor: Not at all. Not at all.
But then an extraordinary thing happened.
Gerald Keene: My first reaction was come on, you know the judge is not gonna accept this guy's claim.
A new witness with an amazing story turned the Harris case on its head.
In late August 2007, Tioga County D.A. Gerry Keene watched his case against Calvin Harris blow up in his face. Two months earlier, a jury had found Harris guilty of murdering his estranged wife Michele. Suddenly -- unbelievably -- that verdict was in jeopardy.
Gerry Keene: I came into the courtroom thinking that the defendant was gonna be sentenced and it ended up being more of my being on trial.
Who on earth had the power to make this happen? He did.
Kevin Tubbs: I know she was there, OK? I know she was.
Kevin Tubbs, plain-spoken, rough-hewn, farm hauler. On Sept. 12, 2001, Tubbs says, he was hauling hay down Hagadorn Hill Road between 5:30 and 6 in the morning -- and what Kevin Tubbs says he saw on that road, on that morning, upended the Harris case.
Kevin Tubbs: As I was going by the Harris property there was a blonde woman out there and a young gentleman you know in his early 20s.
Tubbs says his headlights illuminated the scene. The man and woman were standing by a pickup truck.
Kevin Tubbs: My lights is right on ‘em.
Tubbs was going slowly because of that hay he was hauling -- and he says, he had to swing around that truck.
Kevin Tubbs: I was probably going 20.
And, he says, he was close. A little over 10 feet from the young man. Close enough to see that he was dark and muscular. Close enough to register the young man's angry look.
Kevin Tubbs: He looks at me like this like you know, what do you want?
Close enough, Tubbs says, to see that the woman was upset too.
Kevin Tubbs: Just by her face, looked like she was cryin’. She was either upset or wasted.
And Kevin Tubbs knew he'd seen that woman before.
Kevin Tubbs: I had seen that same lady at that property other times.
Tubbs had never actually met Michele Harris. But he was certain the woman he saw matched Michele's description.
Kevin Tubbs: I know it was her.
But if Kevin Tubbs really did see Michele Harris at the far end of her driveway in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, then the prosecutor's case was in ruins. Demolished. Because he had argued in court that Cal Harris murdered his wife late on Sept. 11, spent the early morning hours cleaning up and disposing of the body and then called the babysitter at 7 o'clock in the morning. If Tubbs was telling the truth, it meant that Harris simply wouldn't have had time for murder and its aftermath. But Tubbs' tale was not bulletproof. Not at all. There was this troubling fact -- that he didn't come forward with what he saw for almost six years. Not until, he says, he read about the trial in a newspaper in June 2007.
Kevin Tubbs: I seen that and I just started like recalling you know thinking like, "Oh my god".
Even though the Harris case was all over the local media for years, Tubbs says he hadn't followed it. Hadn't heard it on the radio, hadn't seen it on TV or even read about it in the newspaper until that day -- and only then he says did he finally put two and two together. The date Michele Harris disappeared -- and the date he says he saw her.
Kevin Tubbs: And I wasn't even sure what to do then. You know.
What he did was make a call -- but not to the police. Kevin Tubbs called Cal Harris' defense attorney.
Kevin Tubbs: I figured OK, if I tell him they're gonna check into -- look through stuff. If you tell the police, either they're not gonna do anything, or you're gonna end up havin a statement and it's gonna be all over the friggin’ news.
Which it was. And in due course, Tubbs was served with a subpoena -- and told the court what he'd seen. The jury verdict was tossed out, a retrial was ordered and Cal Harris -- who'd been hours away from 25 to life -- was out on bail, home with his kids. Tubbs’ account was certainly stunning. His sudden appearance, stranger than fiction. Many, including Michele's family, wrote it off.
Gary Taylor: Everybody knew he was lying. You know, I mean, It was the most bizarre story that you could've ever told.
But for the defense, Tubbs was pure gold. As both sides prepared for trial number two, the defense now had something to spin to create reasonable doubt -- and raise questions in the jurors’ minds about the prosecutor's case.
Bill Easton: Our theory was that Michele ran into someone and the crime that occurred far away from Hadadorn Hill.
Now all the defense attorneys had to do was convince twelve jurors that they were right.
In the summer of 2009, it was déjà vu all over again at the Tioga County courthouse. Successful car dealer Cal Harris, accused of the second degree murder of his estranged wife Michele, was going on trial for the second time. The prosecutor had won a conviction the first time around. Then, out of the blue -- Cal Harris got a reprieve. And, as he waited for trial number two, a chance to hope again -- and live a normal life again.
Jackie Casella: He was a phenomenal coach.
Cal Harris devoted himself to his kids -- and his game, lacrosse. He coached a local team, the ten and under crowd. Jackie Casella's son was a member.
Jackie Casella: He was always encouraging to those kids even when they were struggling. He was like, "Good try."
And then in July 2009 when the second trial opened, it seemed likely the prosecutor's arguments weren't going to change very much. So all eyes were on the defense.
Bill Easton: There simply isn't enough evidence to convict Cal Harris of murder.
Attorney Bill Easton was a member of the defense team.
Bill Easton: There's not an eyewitness to it, an ear witness to it. He didn't confess to it. And there's not a murder weapon. None of this direct evidence is present in this case.
As far as the defense was concerned, Michele Harris never even made it back to her house the night she disappeared. The defense theory was that she was killed at the end of the driveway or abducted there and killed later.
As they did in the first trial, the defense had to explain Harris's behavior after Michele vanished. He didn't seem concerned, according to New York state troopers. And he didn't take part in any of the searches.
Bill Easton: We gotta understand that he was immediately under suspicion. He really couldn't have participated in the search.
Merry Harris, Cal's aunt, says Cal had his hands full at home.
Merry Harris: There were dozens, maybe hundreds of experts scouring the area looking for her. And there was one person taking care of these four kids.
Which explains why he wasn't notifying friends about Michele's disappearance. Merry says she didn't even get a call from him.
Merry Harris: That frankly doesn't surprise me all that much.
Keith Morrison: Why?
Merry Harris: Just because I think he was taking care of the kids. And taking it like one breath at a time.
And, she says, he couldn't begin to track down his wife.
Merry Harris: I think that he probably had no idea where she was and what had happened to her. Wouldn't have known where to call.
Keith Morrison: Did he make an assumption that she was away somewhere with her boyfriend?
Merry Harris: I don't know that he made any assumptions, to be honest with you. I really think it was kinda like, "Holy. What's happened now?"
Then there was motive. The prosecutor argued it was money. That Cal was worried the dealerships would take a hit because of the divorce. Not so, says Cal's side -- his lawyer told him Michele couldn't touch the business. And, the defense argued, before she vanished, Michele had actually decided to accept Cal's settlement offer: $740,000.
Bill Easton: She had indicated to numerous people she was happy with the settlement.
Besides, money was just not a problem for the Harris family.
Merry Harris: There was plenty of money to go around. And no amount of money would have made Cal say, "Aha, for 2 million I'm just gonna wipe her out."
But Cal's side does concede there were money issues between husband and wife in the final months. Issues of a different kind.
Merry Harris: I think, frankly, that Cal may have had some real concerns about where the money was going.
The defense contended Michele was sliding into a tawdry new lifestyle in those last months. One that required money. One that worried her husband.
Merry Harris: He was afraid that she was getting into you know drinking too much, possibly using drugs. That you know money was kind of flying out the door. What's going on here?
What was going on, the defense argued, was that Michele was hanging with a dubious crowd. It was her "year of living dangerously."
Bill Easton: Her lifestyle did change over the last year. She intersected with a variety of people that she had never intersected with before. And it's our position that one of these people committed this crime.
The night she disappeared she had drinks with the restaurant manager -- a man who'd had a drug problem -- and a co-worker, a man who had been convicted of rape. And then she then drove to her boyfriend's apartment and left there, according to him, around 11. The next morning her van was found. And here's something suspicious given the company she was keeping . The defense says $15,000 worth of jewelry was missing from her van. She'd told friends she was planning to sell it.
Keith Morrison: Are you satisfied with the amount of forensic work that was done on those gentlemen she was drinking with at the bar or her boyfriend or those kinda people? Was there any particular concern you had about that?
Bill Easton: Oh yes. I mean, they focused immediately on Cal Harris. And their investigative focus diverted them from doing any type of thorough forensic investigation.
And then there was Kevin Tubbs. The star witness. Remember, he said he'd seen a woman he believed to be Michele Harris with a young man hours after the prosecutor said she was already dead.
Kevin Tubbs: The girl was there and so was another fella.
But Tubbs waited six years to come forward. And he'd had some run-ins with the police over the years. But, the defense contended, he was credible.
Bill Easton: He has no motive to fabricate this. He saw a pickup truck and he saw a man and a woman on that road.
So now, what remained for the defense was some explaining. About the blood evidence certainly but also about that threat cal was said to have made that he wouldn't need a gun to kill Michele and if he did, her body would never be found. First the threat. Merry Harris says look deeper.
Merry Harris: I don't want to speculate a lot about Michele. But where was she in her own life? I mean, was she paranoid? What might have been going on in her life that led her to see things that way?
Then the blood spatter inside the house. How to explain that? Well the defense said there was very little of it. And their expert said it was dried blood of indeterminate age.
Keith Morrison: Okay, but an inconvenient bit here is that the blood spatter was this medium velocity spatter, The sorta thing that happens when somebody whacks you beside the head.
Bill Easton: That implies that the only source of medium spatter is hitting someone. Which it isn't. Our expert testified that medium spatter can be explained by a host of non-assaultive or non-criminal explanations, shaking your hand, dropping something coming in contact with something.
As for the blood on the garage floor? The prosecutor argued it had been cleaned up. Not so fast, said the defense.
Bill Easton: No one can say it was definitively wiped up. That's a theory. There's a small amount of diluted blood which was found days after. The New York state police had walked through this particular area of the house while they were conducting the search.
Keith Morrison: Yeah, but walking on it's not gonna destroy the blood cells. They can --
Bill Easton: It could dilute it if their boots are wet.
The defense had one more card to play: Cal Harris himself. He hadn't testified in the first trial but this time he took the stand. He admitted to an affair. Blamed himself for the end of the marriage. But he denied he'd threatened Michele. Denied he'd been worried his car business would be hurt by the divorce. There were no surprises -- but that was the point.
Bill Easton: The portrait of him from the first trial was that he's a man somehow invested with these superhuman powers and that he's able to concoct the perfect crime. And to counter that, we thought the jury should hear his voice and gauge that he's not some sort of caricature but in fact a person.
But would it work? On Aug. 4, after two weeks of testimony, the jury retired.
Al Umber, juror: I mean, it's hard not having a body and not having a murder weapon.
On Aug. 4, 2009, the jury began deliberating in the retrial of Calvin Harris, a car dealer in upstate New York accused of murdering his wife. By day two, everyone was on edge.
Merry Harris: the second trial I really decided I'm not gonna be optimi--you know until I hear "Not guilty." I'm not making any judgments about anything.
Defense attorney Bill Easton allowed himself some modest hope.
Bill Easton: But we certainly knew that we were - we had an uphill battle.
As for the prosecutor? He got a scare when jurors came back with questions.
Gerry Keene: They asked for the definition of reasonable doubt to be read to them again, and that's never a good thing.
Inside the jury room, 12 men and women were methodically going through key points.
Al Umber: To me there's always a little bit of doubt without that explanation. Here's her body. Here's the fingerprints. Kind of thing like that. But I mean, do I have any reasonable doubt?
Umber knew his answer. But he wanted to hear from the rest of the jurors. What, for instance, were their thoughts about other possible suspects?
Al Umber: I said, "Look, she's not a saint. She's cheating on her husband with her boyfriend and cheating on her boyfriend with another guy. Cal's cheating on his wife with another woman.” I said, "We're not judging them on, you know, whether they were good spouses."
Keith Morrison: You're just looking for motive?
Al Umber: I wanted to make sure every single base was covered.
And what about Kevin Tubbs' testimony? Tubbs and the prosecutor had tangled repeatedly.
Al Umber: This is their key witness. You know, this is either going to make or break the case.
And then, the blood evidence. Did the defense take care of that?
Al Umber: I mean, they didn't offer any explanation whatsoever, where that blood came from. And it was only her blood.
Still, it wasn't easy. For two days, while deliberations continued, umber says his stomach was in knots.
Al Umber: It's hard not having a body and not having a murder weapon.
Finally, after lunch on day two -- a verdict. Guilty on one count of second degree murder.
Bill Easton: It was you know, crushing.
Keith Morrison: How did Cal take it?
Bill Easton: Stoically.
For the second time in as many years, cal harris was shackled in the courthouse and outside, the defense team met the media.
Defense: Cal did not commit this crime. Cal did not commit this crime. Let me repeat that a third time, Cal did not commit this crime.
For the Harris family, it was another bitter loss.
Merry Harris: We are disillusioned with the justice system, this is an travesty, there was no way that Cal Harris was going to remotely get a fair trial here.
But for the other side, rejoicing.
Greg Taylor: We're very, very happy. Very happy.
Eight years after Michele Harris vanished, the longest-running legal drama in Tioga County's history was finally at an end. Or was it?
Bill Easton: It's not over.
The defense is appealing, arguing that because of local bias, the one thing Cal Harris could not get here is a fair trial.
Keith Morrison: Do you really think there could be a third trial in this case?
Bill Easton: Yes.
Keith Morrison: You say that with some confidence.
Bill Easton: I think there are significant legal issues here.
As for the prosecutor? He says Cal Harris got a fair trial and a fair shake.
Gerry Keene: He can appeal it if he wants, but I don't think it's going to change the outcome.
For now, two men, fathers both, struggle to live with loss. One, a jury says, has only himself to blame for his broken family.
Merry Harris: He's always felt that it was extremely important for him to be strong for the kids.
Cal Harris told the court at sentencing, reading from a handwritten statement "I am innocent...and I intend to fight every step of the way to get our family back together again."
Merry Harris: The only way to survive, I suppose, is to think “Alright. Somehow this is gonna get sorted out. I'm gonna be exonerated. I'm gonna be back with my family.”
For another father there is now only a memory stone, and the hunger for these wild woods to yield their secret – if, in fact, it's buried here.
Greg Taylor: I think I'm gonna spend some time this spring walking around up there and looking a bit.
Come spring, he may well be out here. Searching the dense woods. The desolate corners. An aging dad with a tragic tale -- and one melancholy hope in his heart.