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11.10.07 48 Hours A Time To Kill Run Dates
 

11.10.07 48 Hours A Time To Kill

06.24.08 48 Hours A Time To Kill

 
A Time To Kill
A Mother Disappears The Day After 9/11
June 24, 2008

(CBS) This story originally aired Nov. 10, 2007.

It was updated on June 24, 2008.

Tioga County in upstate New York is the kind of place where people go to escape the problems of the big cities.

So when 35-year-old Michele Harris disappeared, it mystified State Police Captain Mark Lester. "Normally you would expect at some point along this way we're gonna find her," he says. "And we still haven't been able to find her remains."

As correspondent Erin Moriarty reports, in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2001, Michele's van was found at the end of her driveway.

But getting a search under way wouldn't be easy. "It's the day after 9/11. We had just sent five or 600 troopers to New York City the night before. Most of our canines had been sent to New York City. Most of our aircraft was working with New York City. So, trying to gear this thing up quickly wasn't happening as easy as it normally would," Lester explains.

Adding to the pressure was that Michele was the wife of Cal Harris, a prominent businessman from a wealthy and influential Tioga County family.

The patriarch, Dwight Harris, bought a string of car dealerships for his three sons to help him run.

Michele, fresh out of college, was working as a secretary at one of the dealerships when she caught the eye of Dwight's youngest son Cal.

"Michele was just like a magnet. She was beautiful. She was full of life. And she smiled all the time. And she was a happy person. And she was young, I think that that was something that thoroughly attracted Cal," remembers Barbara Thayer, Cal and Michele's nanny housekeeper.

And Cal was a catch -- an outstanding athlete in high school, an all-American lacrosse player in college, and by the age of 27 a successful businessman.

Michele, the older of two children from a working class family, had never met anyone like Cal. "Michelle came from a small town, not a wealthy family or anything like that," Barb says. "And then here's this man that kinda sweeps ya off your feet. And you know, you travel and you go to Hawaii and you do fun things. Life could be pretty rosy, you know?"

It was a fairytale romance and no one was happier than Michele when she married Cal and became pregnant.

By the time she was 33, she had four children under the age of six. And Cal provided well: the couple lived on a 252-acre estate, complete with a private lake.

Cindy and Tom Turner spent most weekends with the couple. "You could tell they loved each other very much," Tom says. "I mean, they always wanted to be around each other."

If there were any marital problems, Michele kept them hidden from friends and family, including her sister-in-law Shannon Taylor. "I thought that her life was absolutely perfect. You never saw her when she wasn't smiling or laughing," Shannon remembers.

That is, until Michele's fourth child was born. That's when Shannon would learn that life at the Harris house was no longer quite so perfect.

Michele began talking about Calís temper and his controlling behavior. "Everything just had to be absolutely perfect," Shannon says.

Asked what would happen if things weren't perfect, Shannon tells Moriarty, "He'd scream. He'd yell. He wanted her to dress a certain way."

"He wanted her thin. He wanted her to look good. And she would lose weight for him," recalls Cindy Turner.

But nothing she did, Michele told friends, seemed to please Cal. "Cal had told her that she was born in Tioga Center, raised in Tioga Center, and she'd die in Tioga Center, like 'You're small town. You're beneath me. Youíre never going to be up to my level,'" Barb says.

And then Michele discovered Cal was having an affair.

Cal and Michele tried to save the marriage, but in January 2001, after 10 years, Michele filed for divorce. But according to Shannon and Michele's brother Greg, Cal did not want the divorce.

Greg says it was a bitter split, as Michele fought with Cal over money, demanding a full accounting of his businesses.

The situation was made even worse because the couple, forced by the courts, continued sharing the house.

But on Sept. 9, 2001, while horseback riding, Barb remembers Michele seemed happier. "And we were coming back down towards the barn and she said 'I'm so happy. I can't believe it.' She says, 'I'm finally getting my life back. I canít believe how I feel,'" Barb recalls.

Michele had not told her husband yet, but she had decided to accept Calís financial offer and finalize the divorce. Three days later, just hours before she was supposed to meet her lawyer, Michele disappeared.
 


(CBS) On Sept. 12, 2001, the world was focused on the thousands missing in Manhattan.

In Owego, N.Y., 196 miles away, there was another disappearance that might have been overlooked, if it hadn't been for a call to state police investigator Sue Mulvey from Michele's divorce lawyer. "And he said that she hadn't come home, which was totally out of character for her," Mulvey remembers. "And he was concerned for her well-being."

So was Michele's family. Shannon Taylor immediately feared the worst. "I said to the secretary when I walked out of my office, I said, 'I'm going. I don't know when I'll be back. I am pretty sure that my brother-in-law killed my sister-in-law,'" Shannon remembers.

Less than an hour after Michele's divorce lawyer made the call, investigators Mike Myers and Mike Young arrived at Cal's dealership to question him.

"He was very calm, and unemotional," Young remembers.

"He didn't seem to us that he was trying to hide anything or stop us from doing anything," Myers adds.

If Cal had something to hide, he sure didn't act like it. He even took the investigators back to his house so they could look around for themselves.

The investigators say Cal granted them full access to the entire home, and Young says they didn't spot anything unusual as they went through the house.

When Cal returned to his office, he left Young and Myers alone on his property. "He wasn't concerned at all about us being in his house or at the end of his driveway. There was no problem," Myers says.

But to Myers, Cal seemed almost too unconcerned: "He comes across as personable and cooperative. But to me, it seems like there's a little something missing, everything was almost programmed, is what I felt when we were talkin' to him."

Cal denied he had anything to do with Michele's disappearance. Instead, he told investigators to take a closer look at Michele herself.

She was still sharing a house with her husband, but Michele was living the life of a single woman. After Cal cut off much of her allowance, she began to work nights at a restaurant. Suddenly, Michele had freedom, money of her own and new men in her life.

"All these other people keep popping up with things in their backgrounds or relationships they had with Michele that we're goingÖthey could easily be a suspect in this thing, also," Capt. Lester says.

On top of the list: 23-year-old Brian Earley. Not only was Michele dating the much younger man, she was with him the night she disappeared.

"You were one of the last people to see her alive, Brian," Moriarty remarks.

"Last person who is admitting to it," Brian replies.

On the evening of Sept. 11, Brian admits Michele had stopped by his apartment after work. He says she left to drive home just after 11 p.m. "I walked her to her van, closed the door. I leaned in the window. Gave her a kiss goodnight, told her I loved her, see her tomorrow. That was it. She backed out of my parking spot, drove away," Brian remembers.

Brian, a land surveyor living in Philadelphia, started dating Michele after he met her at a local bar in the fall of 2000. "Said she was married. Said she had four children. Said she was not happy with her marriage," Brian recalls.

That Michele was married and still living with her husband didn't worry Brian.

And in June 2001, Brian gave up his job and home to move to Tioga County just to be near Michele. He even gave her money to help buy a house in Owego.

Brian says he gave her a "good chunk" of his money. "But it was alright. I wasn't doing anything with it," he says. "I loved her."

And he hoped to marry Michele as soon as her divorce was final. But, Barb Thayer says Michele didnít see the relationship in quite the same way. "Michele was certainly not gonna go from what she was just going through and turn right around and get married," she says.

But Brian wasn't the only man Michele was seeing.
 



(CBS) Michele had also dated a co-worker Michael Kasper, a secret she kept from even her closest friend, Nikki Burdick. "That I did not know about. I think I was as surprised as anybody else that found out about that," Nikki remembers.


As it turned out, before Michele saw Brian on the night she disappeared, she had drinks after work with Michael Kasper.

Sue Mulvey says he did not have an alibi for that night.

Drinking with Michele and Kasper was another co-worker, Michael Hakes. A routine look into his background took investigators by surprise - he is an ex-convict with a serious record.

"He had a rape conviction in Arizona and had served ten years in prison," Mulvey says.

A convicted rapist, two boyfriends, and police were still looking at the estranged husband. As part of the investigation, forensic specialist Steve Andersen was sent to the Harris home to take a closer look.

"Thereís quite obvious to me that we had blood spatter in the house. I could see it as soon as I walked in the house," Andersen says.

Andersen says he found tiny specks of blood on a kitchen doorway that investigators who had been in the home two days earlier didn't see.

Suddenly, investigators had a possible crime scene, which made Michele's husband look more and more like the prime suspect.

In the weeks following Michele's disappearance, the mystery weighed heavily on friends like Nikki Burdick. "I mean I look at how much I miss her. And she was just my friend. I can't imagine what her brother, Shannon, her dad and her kids are going through. I mean she wouldnít want this for anybody, nobody," she says.

But Michele's husband, Cal, seemed to have no trouble moving on. Barb Thayer says Cal took up a relationship with an old girlfriend, less than three weeks after Michele disappeared.

Barb continued to watch the children for Cal after Michele disappeared. "He never asked meÖ'Have you heard from Michele? Did Michele call you? Is she wondering where the kids are?' He never has mentioned Michele to me. And I worked for him for a solid year afterward," she remembers.

Michele's father, Gary Taylor, says Cal never called him. Gary is deeply troubled by Calís apparent lack of concern. "When we'd have birthday parties for the kids, he would drive 'em down sometimes. And he would never look at you or look at you in the face," Gary explains. ďSo thatís when it became kinda more evident to me that I think he might have had more to do with it than I was initially thinking."

"You knew something had happened to Michele. But who did you think was responsible for her disappearance?" Moriarty asks Michele's friend Nikki.

"Her husband. There was never a question. Never, ever a question," she says.

But weeks turned into months, and no arrest.

"Investigators would call and say 'Don't worry,'" Gary recalls. "I was thinking, you know, is the money gonna buy him out of this?"

Micheleís family and friends werenít the only ones who suspected Cal Harris killed his wife. So did the police, but there simply wasnít much of a case. Without a body or a murder weapon, there is no cause of death. In fact, there's no proof Michelle is dead at all. What the police did have were tiny drops of blood in the kitchen and the garage. And there was Cal Harris himself -- what he did after his wife disappeared and what he didn't do.

"He never made a phone call that morning to find out where she was," says Capt. Lester.

Lester wondered why Cal didn't try to track his wife down. "If the mother of your children who takes care of them every morning suddenly doesnít show up, I think your first reaction is gonna be to pick up the phone and make a call and say 'Hey, where the hell are ya?'" the state police captain says,

Nikki says Cal's demeanor was completely out of character. "That is not in his personality to be calm, cool and collected about anything," she says.

"Cal is a very explosive person. He has a temper," Barb says.

But that morning, Barb says Cal was unusually calm about Michele's disappearance, and after looking through Micheleís van made a strange request: "He said 'Oh my gosh this car is a mess.' He said 'I want you to drop it off at the dealership and I'm gonna clean it from top to bottom,'" she tells Moriarty.

And just days later, according to Barb, Cal began packing away all of his wifeís belongings and told Barb to sell them in a garage sale.

And thereís the strange story Michele told her sister-in-law and brother.

Shannon says a few months before she disappeared, Michele, in a kind of "laughing way," said that Cal had threatened her. "Hahaha, I got the perfect place to put your body, theyíll never find you," Shannon recalls.

But Cal's friends Kevin O'Hara and his wife Tracy see Cal's behavior in a different light. "Itís interesting that people who havenít gone through a certain situation are very quick to say that someone else should have reacted or acted in a certain fashion. To me, the way he acted was Cal," Kevin says.
 




(CBS) The local state police, now back to full strength and convinced Cal had buried Michele's body, focused the search in and around the Harris property. They used helicopters in the air, dogs on the ground, and at one point, investigators even secretly placed a GPS device on Cal's car, hoping he'd lead them to Michelleís body. He didnít. But as they were searching abandoned wells, there was suddenly a discovery.

Capt. Lester says a black plastic bag of bones was found. But they turned out to be animal bones.

The search went on for a year, then two. After four years and no sign of Michele, investigators felt it was now or never. "The case wasnít getting any better," Lester explains. "There were really no new significant leads or evidence coming in. But win, lose or draw, this case had to go to trial."

On Sept. 30, 2005, Cal was arrested and charged with Michele's murder. But how much of a case is there? Defense attorney Joe Cawley is confident Cal will never be convicted.

"Because you can't find a murder weapon. You can't just say, 'Well, he must have disposed of it,'" Cawley says. "And because you can't find sufficient quantities of blood, he must have cleaned it up. He must have just done a really good job. And we can't find the body. Well, he must have done a good job of that, too. A lack of evidence is reasonable doubt."

Nothing has quite shaken the calm of Owego, N.Y., like the murder trial of Calvin Harris. It took nearly six years, but Cal's trial finally began on May 21, 2007.

Harris, out on a half a million dollar bail, came to court from the house where authorities believe he murdered his wife almost six years earlier.

"Have you ever had a case where there was no body and youíve prosecuted someone for murder? No body? No witness. No murder weapon. Nothing?" Moriarty asks District Attorney Gerald Keene.

"No. This was the most difficult case that I've ever done," Keene says.

Defense attorney Bill Easton says Cal is on trial because of who he is, not because of anything he did. "In most cases we have admissions, or we have eye witnesses. Thatís not this case. This case is 'Sheís missing. He was divorcing from her. His behavior was odd, thereís very small amounts of blood that might suggest something.' And thatís it," he says.

That blood is the main focus at the trial -- the small amounts police found inside the Harris home two days after Michele disappeared. Six drops of her blood on the doorway between the kitchen and the garage, more drops on a kitchen throw rug and on the garage floor.

"These are sub-millimeter spots," says defense attorney Joe Cawley. "It's such a small amount you know, itís just not indicative of criminal conduct."

But D.A. Gerald Keene says, "It wasn't really the amount of blood that was incriminating here. It was the size of the blood specks and the manner in which the blood was deposited."

With so much riding on the blood evidence in the case, the prosecution recruited world renowned criminologist Henry Lee, who testified on videotape.

Lee, best known for the work in the O.J. Simpson trial more than a decade ago, says the small amounts of blood in the Harris home tell the story of what happened to Michele.

The pattern of blood spots in the doorway, says Lee, was caused when Michele was hit, twice. The first punch knocked her down. The second hit caused her blood to fly.

Using red dye to demonstrate, senior forensic investigator Steve Andersen showed Moriarty how spatter similar to what was found in the Harris home is created.

Andersen says the spatter was approximately a millimeter in size and some smaller than that.

Asked if this was enough to tell him that that was a crime scene, Andersen tells Moriarty, "The very potential of a crime scene was there. Yes."

Andersen, who also testified at trial, believes Michele was hit with medium velocity by some kind of blunt instrument, like a hammer or even a fist. "To get that size you have to apply a force to break that up into smaller droplets and propel it through the air," he explains.

"Isnít it normal in a familyís home to find blood? I mean, people bleed. Thereís kids," Moriarty points out.

"Yes. But normally, not medium velocity impact spatter," Andersen says.

"It was blood spatter, so that it wouldnít come from a bloody nose dripping or a cut finger," D.A. Keene says.
 




(CBS) Henry Lee testified that the tiny drops of blood found on the kitchen rug, more than 40 of them, are more evidence of an assault. And he testified they are more consistent with spatter than dripped blood.

Lee also told the jury that the blood, that looked bright red in photographs, had to be fresh. But Cal's defense attorney Bill Easton disputes that. "Dr. Henry Lee never examined that blood. He bases his opinion solely on his examination of photographs," Easton points out.

Asked what's wrong with that, Easton says, "There was no evidence that they accurately depicted the exact shade of red."

The defense says the blood could have been there for years, and that it's scientifically impossible to determine the age of blood. "So Dr. Lee saying itís within a few days we think is simply incredible. That may be his opinion, based on hunches, based on his experience. It's not based on science," Easton says.

And beyond the blood, say defense attorneys, there is no other physical evidence to tie their client to Micheleís disappearance or death. There's no body and no murder weapon.

"The lack of physical evidence canít become evidence. 'We canít find the body, so gee, he must have been really good at hiding the body.' They didnít find it because itís not there," Cawley says.

"Isnít it possible that Cal, if in fact he killed his wife, just had a very secure place to put her body? He knows that property better than anyone does," Moriarty remarks.

"I just think thatís the power of magical thinking -- thereís a special place that he could put it where no one could find it," says Easton.

If he did hide her body, how did he do it? None of Micheleís blood was found in any of Cal's vehicles, nor was blood found in the kitchen sink traps.

"How did he clean up? Where is the blood? Where is the body? How did he do it?" wonders Bill Easton.

The answer, say Cal's attorneys, is simple: they say police are looking at the wrong man. "I think law enforcement went to Herculean extent to try to prove Cal guilty. And their focus was entirely on Cal almost to the exclusion of everyone else," Cawley says.

But D.A. Gerald Keene thinks that's "baloney."

But just how thoroughly did police investigate Brian Earley, Micheleís young boyfriend, who was the last known person to see her alive?

Keene says police never searched Earley's car or apartment to see if Michele's blood was present.

Police also didnít search the apartment of Michael Kasper, the co-worker with whom Michele had a secret affair, or Michael Hakes', the man with a criminal history for rape, who worked with Michele the night she disappeared.

Sue Mulvey of the state police says Hakes' body was not searched to see if there were any injuries.

Why not?

"We couldn't find where Michele ever had a problem with him, where she ever evinced any fear of him, where he had ever done anything out of line, or untoward to her or any other member of the community," Mulvey says.

Police say all three men fully cooperated and were eliminated as suspects after they took and passed polygraphs, something Cal refused to do.

"He had cooperated with them. He had given them numerous statements, allowed them to search his house," Easton says. "Once you assert your right to counsel, not participating in a polygraph test, I donít think, is evidence of any guilt at all."

Cal also chose not to testify at trial. On June 6, 2007, after two weeks of testimony, the case went to the jury. Will the holes in the case against Cal add up to reasonable doubt? His attorneys are counting on it.

With the case in the hands of the jury, Cal's friends Tracy and Kevin O'Hara were feeling confident. "It seems like Cal would have to be Houdini to
fulfill this crime the way the prosecution said he did," Tracy comments.

But what do the jurors believe? It took them less than four hours -- spread over two days -- to reach a verdict: guilty of second degree murder.

"When the verdict was read, you could feel the courtroom on the left of us, all of the Harris family just dropping. It was like dominos," remembers Michele's friend Cindy Turner. "And crying from Cal."

"I think I had to wait a minute to digest it. This is the man that killed my daughter with his bare hands," says Michele's father Gary. "He deserves everything he got."

No one was more shocked than Cal's attorneys Bill Easton and Joe Cawley

Asked why he thinks the jury convicted Cal, Cawley tells Moriarty, "I don't know. I donít. I wish I had a good answer for that."
 



(CBS) Six of the jurors were willing to explain the verdict.

"To me the evidence was overwhelming, in the long run," a male juror told Moriarty. "There was just so many little pieces that just come together to make the whole puzzle."

They say that Cal's own actions gave him away. "Why wouldnít you join in the search? Why wouldnít you stay home from work that day? Why wouldnít you be questioning those police saying, 'Hey, you know, letís look here. Letís try this, letís do that,'" a female juror remarked. "He never did any of that."

More proof, they say, was Cal's comment to his girlfriend, just 18 days after Michele vanished. "When she said, 'Oh, she was a little nervous about spending the night 'cause she was afraid Michele was gonna be coming home,' she said. And he just looked at her and said, 'Oh, she wonít be coming home.' How do you know that? I mean, how do you know that unless you know that?" a female juror wondered.

And that little bit of blood played a big part. "If they wouldnít have found any blood, he would have gotten away with it, I think," a male juror remarked.

And if Michele was killed in her own home, the jurors said that eliminated the other possible suspects, leaving only one person: Cal Harris.

"We followed the lines of evidence and beyond a reasonable doubt, we believe he did it," a female juror said.

Two months later, there were suddenly new questions about the verdict. Did the jurors hear all the evidence?

Just days before Cal was about to be sentenced for his wife's murder, a new witness came forward, putting the conviction of Cal Harris in jeopardy.

"To have somebody pop out of the woodwork after a verdict is announced - it was a little bit shocking," Mark Lester remarks.

A 33-year-old farmer, Kevin Tubbs, says he was hauling hay around dawn on Sept. 12, and drove past the Harris driveway.

"He sees a man and a woman, a pickup truck, and another vehicle at the end of the driveway. He claims it looked like they were having an argument," Lester says.

The woman, he says, looked like Michele. As for the man, "Dark complexion, white male. Early 20ís. And he said it definitely was not Cal Harris," Lester says of Tubbs' description.

If Tubbs saw Michele when he says he did, then Cal wouldn't have had the time to kill her.

"Is it possible that he's right?" Moriarty asks state police Capt. Mark Lester.

"I donít think so," he replies.

Lester says it was too dark at 5:40 a.m. for Tubbs to have seen Michele clearly.

"He had to have been mistaken as to what he saw," Lester says.

"Or? Or he lied," Moriarty remarks.

"Well, thatís the other possibility," Lester says.

But what matters is what Judge Martin Smith thinks. In November 2007, friends and family members are called back to court. In a shocking decision, Judge Smith throws out Cal Harris' conviction for the murder of his wife, and orders a new trial.

"He was overwhelmed. He's been in jail for five months and to hear a judge release him was just overwhelming," Cal's attorney Bill Easton commented after the decision.

But if Cal Harris is relieved, Michele's family is devastated. The prosecutor says he'll fight to keep the conviction, but now, out on a half-million dollar bail, Cal Harris is once again a free man.

"I was looking forward to having the case behind me also, but itís not about me. Itís about Michele Harris. So Iíll do whatever I have to do to make sure that we get justice for her," D.A. Gerald Keene vows.


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The state wants the conviction to stand, and is appealing the judge's decision to grant Cal Harris a new trial.

Harris's attorney Joe Cawley is now a Broome County judge.

Michele Harris has been missing for 2,478 days.




 

 

 

 

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