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SCHOHARIE, N.Y. — A wealthy businessman accused of killing his estranged wife in 2001 had been in imminent danger of losing control of his children and money, a prosecutor said on Wednesday as arguments in his fourth murder trial wrapped up.
Calvin Harris is accused of murdering his wife, Michele Harris, when she went home to the Southern Tier estate they shared with their four children late on the night of Sept. 11, 2001. Her body has never been found. Two previous guilty verdicts against Harris were overturned, and a third trial last year ended in a mistrial.
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The fourth trial wound down with defense lawyer Bruce Barket saying in closing arguments that investigators built their case on bad evidence and unreliable witnesses. Barket argued that investigators fixated on Harris and overlooked another suspect his 35-year-old wife met as her marriage decayed and her lifestyle become more freewheeling.
Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin countered that Harris had the motive and the means to kill his wife as they headed toward divorce. He said Harris, who was in the family car dealership business, stood to lose $700,000 or more and custody of the children.
"There is only one person who benefits from Michele's murder, and that is the defendant, Calvin Harris," Martin told Judge Richard Mott, who is hearing the case without a jury.
Barket argued that the 54-year-old Harris has endured false accusations and four murder trials over the 15 years as he raised the couple's children. He said authorities have no more proof against Harris than they did the week of his wife's disappearance.
"They have not found Michele Harris, and they have not solved this case," Barket said. "They've been investigating the wrong man."
Barket held up a small plastic bottle with drops of blood at the bottom to dramatize the minute amount of blood police investigators culled from the Harris home's alcove and garage. He said it cannot be proved when the stains were made, whether all the blood came from Harris' wife and whether they were left from an attack on Sept. 11.
Martin said the hundreds of samples, many diluted as if there was a cleanup, demonstrate that Harris attacked his wife when she walked in the door and then moved her to the garage.
Harris sat at the defense table listening intently to the day of arguments as his children sat in the front row.
Martin said he believed Harris took advantage of the widespread confusion on the night of the Sept. 11 terror attacks. The prosecutor said Harris had plenty of time overnight to hide his wife's body in the sprawling woods around their house in upstate Spencer before her empty minivan was found at the end of their driveway on the morning of Sept. 12.
Barket said that while Harris had been upset when his wife decided to divorce him the previous year, he had come to terms with it and a settlement was near.
"It wasn't heating up," Barket said. "It was literally calming down."
This is the second trial held in rural Schoharie, more than 100 miles from where the highly publicized case unfolded.
It's unclear when the judge will make his decision.