- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2003

HOUSTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) — A Houston jury Thursday convicted Clara Harris of murder for running her husband down with her Mercedes-Benz after catching him with another woman.

The jury took about seven hours to convict the 45-year-old dentist who claimed she ran over her husband, David Harris, by accident July 24, 2002, outside a Friendswood hotel where he had met with his mistress.

The jury also ruled that the Mercedes-Benz she used to kill her husband was a deadly weapon within the law, which means Harris will have to serve at least half of her sentence before being eligible for parole.

The same jury will now begin considering evidence in the punishment phase of the murder trial. Harris does not face the possibility of the death penalty but she could receive up to life in prison.

Defense attorneys can argue that she acted under "sudden passion," which in Texas could reduce her sentence.

The jury of nine women and three men also had the options of manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide if they agreed she was guilty of a crime.

Harris was charged with murder after police said she drove over her husband three times outside the Nassau Bay Hilton Inn in Friendswood, a Houston suburb.

"It was an accident," she told police after they arrived though there was conflicting testimony in the trial over how many times David Harris was hit.

In closing arguments Wednesday, defense attorney George Parnham said Clara Harris was a devoted wife and mother of two and had no intention of killing her husband when she drove to the hotel to confront him.

"In one week, she spiraled down from a life of dignity and self-respect to the knowledge that her neighbors and everyone else knows her husband was being unfaithful," he told the jury. "Didn't she react like any woman would act?"

In her closing, Assistant District Attorney Mia Magness said Harris went too far.

"David Harris' affair was immoral and wrong, but the solution was to get divorced," she said. "She should do like every other woman in Harris County and take him to the cleaners. Get his house, car, kids — make him wish he was dead. But you don't get to kill him."

Parnham also questioned the testimony of state witnesses that Harris drove the car over her husband three times, reminding the jurors that a defense expert said the victim was struck only once.

Harris believed her husband's affair with his former receptionist, Gail Bridges, had ended and she drove to the hotel after a private investigator she had hired reported they were together again.

Harris confronted the pair in the lobby of the hotel and then as they were leaving she drove her car into her husband. She said on the witness stand that she was aiming for Bridges' car, not her husband.

Some of the most surprising testimony came from her 17-year-old stepdaughter, Lindsey Harris, who was riding in the Mercedes-Benz with Harris.

"She said, 'I'm going to hit him,'" the teenager testified.

"She said it like that's what was going to happen. I screamed, 'No! lots of times. But she stomped on the accelerator and went straight for him."

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