HOUSTON – Jurors on Friday ordered Clara Harris, the suburban dentist convicted of driving over her cheating husband during a jealous rage in 2002, to pay $3.75 million in damages to her in-laws.
Gerald and Mildred Harris had asked jurors to award them $5 million in compensation for lost companionship, pain and suffering, and lost financial support resulting from the death of their youngest son, David Harris.
Jurors deliberated for 10 hours before reaching their verdict. Their decision came after a week of often emotional testimony from the Harrises and their eldest son, Gerald Harris Jr.
Clara Harris, 48, took the stand, but repeatedly invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Her attorney, Dean Blumrosen, said he didn't want to risk having her say anything in the civil trial that might endanger her appeal of her 2003 murder conviction.
Clara Harris repeatedly ran over David Harris, 44, with her Mercedes-Benz in July 2002 in the parking lot of the suburban Houston hotel where she had confronted him and his mistress several minutes earlier. The case garnered international attention, and she was convicted of murder in February 2003 and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In the civil case, jurors had to decide whether they should require Clara Harris to compensate the elder Harrises for their loss and, if so, how much that compensation should be. Unlike a criminal trial, only 10 of the 12 jurors are required to agree in order to render a verdict.
Joe Stephens and Richard Howell Jr., the attorneys representing the Harrises, told jurors they should award each of the Harrises $1 million for the loss of their son's companionship, $1 million for their mental anguish and an estimated $720,000 for the financial support their son had promised them in their later years.
Stephens and Howell also have urged jurors not to allow Clara Harris to "profit" from killing her husband.
But Dean Blumrosen, who represents Clara Harris, told jurors during closing arguments Thursday that his client was not interested in profiting from David Harris' death. On the contrary, he said, Clara Harris had ensured that 86 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the couple's lucrative dental and orthodontic practice went to their 8-year-old twin sons and David Harris' 21-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. In addition, he said, every penny of the proceeds from David Harris' insurance also went to his three children.
Blumrosen has said that Clara's in-laws are suing because they were manipulated by their eldest son and his wife, who hope to benefit from any award to the parents. The suit also is motivated by revenge, Blumrosen said, because Clara Harris did not appoint her in-laws as guardians of her sons and their estate.