HOUSTON – A private investigator hired by Clara Harris the day before she fatally ran over her husband with her Mercedes-Benz testified Monday she still appeared in love with the man despite his suspected philandering.
"You could tell she really loved her husband," private investigator Claudine Phillips said as the second week of the murder trial began. Harris, herself a dentist, is accused of intentionally running down husband David Harris in the parking lot of the Houston-area hotel where the couple married a decade earlier on Valentine's Day.
On July 24, Clara Harris found her husband at the hotel with a former female employee, who she believed had set out to "trap" her 44-year-old husband.
Prosecutors allege after her husband spurned her, Clara Harris intentionally ran him over numerous times.
Defense attorneys say Clara Harris "lost it" and it was an accident when she struck her husband with her silver Mercedes. They say Clara Harris only wanted to keep her marriage and her family together.
Phillips told the jury that Clara Harris hired Blue Moon Investigations on July 23 to follow her husband and his confessed mistress, Gail Bridges.
Clara Harris blamed herself for the affair and her marriage collapsing, Phillips testified. The private investigator said Clara Harris told her she had been paying more attention to her 3-year-old twin boys than to her husband.
"It was like she opened up the door of her home for this woman to come in and steal her husband," Phillips testified. "I could tell she cared about her husband. I could tell she cared about her children."
Phillips said Clara Harris hired the firm to follow her husband on the night of July 24 and then to follow Bridges for the next two days. Clara Harris told the private investigator she thought Bridges was after her husband's money and that David Harris was being deceived and couldn't see clearly because he had fallen in love.
Specifically, Phillips testified, Clara Harris wanted more information about Bridges' relationship with a woman she reportedly lived with.
"Is it fair to say Clara Harris believed these two women were involved in a lesbian relationship?" defense attorney George Parnham asked Phillips.
"Yes, she told me that," the private investigator testified. "She wanted some documentation of that to show her husband."
Clara Harris wrote a check for more than $1,500 to cover the three days of surveillance.
Later, the first police officer on the scene testified that it didn't appear that David Harris had been hit numerous times.
Then prosecutor Mia Magness asked Frank Reyna, an officer in the normally quiet Houston suburb of Nassau Bay, how often he's seen bodies that have been struck numerous times. He replied he'd only seen it in movies.
Prosecutors used the appearances by Reyna and Detective Theresa Relken to show jurors evidence they gathered at the scene, including a tooth dislodged from David Harris' head, a bloody shirt button and blood-soaked towels a bystander used to wipe the orthodontist's face as he lay dying.
Bridges seemed stunned and was unresponsive to questions after the collision, leading police to send her to a nearby hospital, Reyna said. Clara Harris sobbed before she was handcuffed and taken away.
Relken testified she photographed bruises on Clara Harris' right arm as evidence of the physical fight between her and Bridges in the hotel lobby. The detective said the bruises on Clara Harris' arm appeared to be fresh.
But under cross-examination by Parnham, Relken said some of the bruises on Clara Harris' arm were different colors, suggesting some may have been older than others.
Prosecutors expected to wrap up their case later this week with David Harris' daughter, 17-year-old Lindsey, taking the stand on Wednesday. Lindsey Harris was a passenger in the Mercedes as her father was struck and killed. She is expected to be a pivotal witness in the case against her stepmother.
If convicted, Clara Harris faces up to life in prison. If jurors determine she acted under the legal definition of sudden passion, they could consider a lighter sentence of two to 20 years in prison.
The trial is expected to continue into next week.