tv Dateline MSNBC October 8, 2017 1:00am-2:01am PDT
loyal, ever reliable. he could tame wild beasts with his whisper. not so easy to bring a human heart to heal. [music playing] 'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." dad. he loves us so much. [music playing] no one wants to have both their parents taken away from them. craig melvin (voiceover): it's a tale with so many dramatic turns-- the story of a young family facing heartache beyond measure, a mom who suddenly vanished, a dad suddenly under suspicion. you just hear the awful things they say. i knew they were focusing on me. [whoosh] [music playing] craig melvin (voiceover): there was nobody, no weapon, no eyewitness. there's not one doubt in my mind that he's guilty.
[bang] craig melvin (voiceover): now, after four trials, the final verdict is in. i'm not guilty. i didn't do this. [theme music] hello, and welcome to "dateline." cal harris seemed to have it all-- a beautiful family, a successful business, and a big house on a lake. but all was not as it seemed. it was september 11, 2001. as the world witnessed the tragedies unfolding in new york, washington, d.c., and pennsylvania, the harris family was struck by heartbreak much closer to home. cal's wife michele had disappeared. here with "the house on the lake," is keith morrison. [music playing] keith morrison (voiceover): it's a long, winding ride, this tale, studded with surprises. i just felt like i was being kidnapped in broad daylight,
and no one could help me. keith morrison (voiceover): it's the story of his life and theirs. we cannot sit here in silence and watch another travesty of justice take place. keith morrison (voiceover): it's about their world-- the one that fell apart in a time they can't recall. do you remember very much about your mom? not really. it's been a long time. keith morrison (voiceover): it's about what happened on a september day the rest of the world can't forget. is there a corner of your brain that thinks, maybe it was somebody else. not at all. not at all. keith morrison (voiceover): 15 years, four trials. would it never end? i just put my head down. i went numb i just-- i went numb. keith morrison (voiceover): this is the climactic chapter in a family saga-- one that began in a moment all but drowned out in the chaos of history. it was september, 2001. the harris kids were little-- seven, six, four, and two.
the family lived in this sprawling patch of wilderness with a private lake in the back yard, living in paradise, seems like. yeah. the kids have-- still have a lot of happy memories out here. you know, it's just a very unique and special place that we were fortunate enough to, uh-- to purchase, you know, years and years ago. keith morrison (voiceover): a unique and special place that only a prosperous person could afford like the prominent car dealer cal harris. he loved it out here too, he said, and taught his kids to love it. you went hunting with the kids here, and fishing? hunting, fishing, you name it. we swim in the lake. we jet ski in lake. we water ski. my kids like to bring their friends out and really enjoy. it's just a-- if you like to be outdoors it's a fun place. christmas it is always fun. i can imagine. [laughing] opening presents. yeah. playing with all the new things you get. well, i can't think of a more idyllic sort of place to have christmas. does it feel like that at the time?
yeah. keith morrison (voiceover): it was here in this patch of paradise, said cal, that he woke up one morning years ago to find that his wife michele wasn't home. she'd gone to work the evening before, didn't come back. mary harris is cal's aunt. he didn't know where she was, and didn't know that it happened. he just woke up, and she wasn't there. and honestly, he didn't-- it wasn't something he seemed comfortable talking about a lot. um, i think it was very emotional for him. keith morrison (voiceover): she was gone-- gone without warning. her friends, distraught, called her cell phone. friend (on phone): where the hell are you? you need to call me as soon as freaking possible. i am worried to death about you. keith morrison (voiceover): they heard her cheery cell phone message haunting now. michele (on phone): hi. this is michele. leave me your name and number, and i'll call you back as soon as i can. [beep]
bob miller (on phone): michele, bob miller. what's going on here? keith morrison (voiceover): there is something else about this you should know. the night michele harris vanished was not just any night. it was september 11, 2001. things are in some kind of disarray. keith morrison (voiceover): so they were. and so nobody was paying much attention with the disturbing events up here around little owego, new york. troopers have all been sent to new york city. um, there's a skeleton crew left at all the stations. keith morrison (voiceover): back then, sue mulvey was a senior investigator with the new york state police. she took the call the morning of september 12th. what'd you do? i sent two investigators over to talk to calvin harris, and i sent a uniform trooper up to the house. keith morrison (voiceover): cal harris opened up his house to them. he said, "whatever you need. look wherever you need to look. you have carte blanche. i want this to be solved. i want to know what happened." keith morrison (voiceover): that morning, investigator mulvey knew only this--
she had a missing person case on her hands, and with luck, it would resolve itself speedily as many do. we kept hoping, as everyone did, that michele would call her house or call one of her friends and show up. keith morrison (voiceover): cal said his aunt mary was completely focused on his four children, had to leave it to others to search for michele. his thing was, ok, it's time for them to go to school. all right, now it's time for me to pick them up. i need to be sure that if this is the routine that they are-- that is normal for them, we're going to keep them in that routine. keith morrison (voiceover): but where was their mother? here was a clue, and it didn't look good. michele's van had been left at the foot of the long driveway leading up to her house out here on that big country lot. the keys were still in the ignition, but where was she? mulvey's investigators, video camera in hand, searched the house and outside-- those 200 plus acres to look through. [helicopter] that area was homesteaded heavily in the 1800s, so there is a lot of laid up wells and old foundations
and things like that. didn't find anything? no, we didn't. keith morrison (voiceover): not at first, and not outside, but a few days later they did. i entered the residence through the open garage door. keith morrison (voiceover): senior investigator steve anderson. i noticed bloodstains on the floor and on the moldings of the doorway that led out to the garage. keith morrison (voiceover): and there was more blood-- tiny stains on a kitchen rug. they sent it out for tests. everything on the floor, on the inside walls, and on the carpet came back to being michele's blood. keith morrison (voiceover): and suddenly, the case looked very different. then we knew we had a real problem. keith morrison (voiceover): what in the world had happened to michele harris? [whoosh] craig melvin (voiceover): coming up. [music playing] sue: they had what would appear to be an idyllic life and a beautiful home and beautiful children. we learned more and more. he became the focus. craig melvin (voiceover): a husband suspected, a daughter in question. i didn't talk.
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keith morrison (voiceover): so was it foul play? after all, michele's van was abandoned at the foot of her driveway. and that blood on the garage floor and in the kitchen alcove, testing proved it was michelle's blood. there's a lot of blood in the garage and spread over a wide area. and there's a lot of blood splatter, i mean, over 60 drops of blood that's been not just dripped, but splattered by some force on that throw rug. keith morrison (voiceover): and yet, it didn't make sense. this woman, wife of an affluent car dealer, devoted mom, seemed like an unlikely victim. and they have what would appear to be an idyllic life, and a beautiful home, and beautiful children. keith morrison (voiceover): it got off to a storybook start-- he, the attractive wealthy car dealer, she, a pretty young woman from modest means, answering phones at a harris family car dealership. my brother had his office across the street from mine,
and, um, i just saw her one day. and, i just kind of evolved from there. what attracted the two of you to each other? she was very outgoing and very attractive and a good personality. she was a knockout she was funny. she was vibrant. keith morrison (voiceover): his aunt mary harris was also taken by cal's new girl. michelle, she said, was a woman up for anything. athletic, let's have a good time. jump on the jet ski, jump on the four-wheeler. wasn't a dainty wee thing, as it were. right. and not a shy retiring type either for that matter? no, i mean that's part of why i thought they-- i mean their personalities to me seemed to really mesh. keith morrison (voiceover): michelle fell hard too for the man and his lifestyle. gary taylor is her dad. he won some dealership thing and they went to switzerland, i think. wow. you know, i mean there was a lot of perks there that she'd never had before, so.
keith morrison (voiceover): in august 1990, michelle and cal got married here beside empire lake. it was great day. it was just a beautiful setting and very relaxing. not very stressful. just kind of ended up being a big party afterwards. keith morrison (voiceover): the fairy tale rolled on. kids kept coming. they built a house on empire lake. and here on their private preserve they were a family in motion-- fishing, swimming, skating, michelle into all of it. the kids, of course, grew older. taylor is the oldest, followed by cayla, and jenna, and tanner. their mom, about her they have no real memories. it's been a long time. yeah, it's true. most of your lives. and-- and-- and how old were you? i'm not sure how old i was, but i don't have any memories. keith morrison (voiceover): jenna is often told by those who knew michele how much she resembles her mom. i have seen pictures of her.
she's really pretty. she's always smiling. she seems like a really happy person. so it makes me feel good that people see me in her. keith morrison (voiceover): and even with that terrible loss, said the kids, they've grown up happy and content, for the most part, all thanks to one person. just tell me about your dad. what kind of a guy is he? funny. keith morrison (voiceover): funny? and goofy, yeah. he's funny. and he's the most caring guy in the world. and he's nice and we're his whole world. and he's protective and just loves us so much and wants the best for us. keith morrison (voiceover): a protective dad who said he tried to shield them, best he could, from the not-so-happy times. michele was really struggling with those kids at a young age, which i totally understood. what i noticed was that she was just drifting away from being a stay-at-home mom. and i understood that. keith morrison (voiceover): there was certainly friction in the harris marriage. he loved order.
she, not so much. she had a room downstairs. and she called it the chuck room. if there was going to be a party or a picnic or whatever, she'd throw it, take it down in the chuck room. keith morrison (voiceover): and she told friends and family he had a temper, a controlling way. once back in 1996, she called her sister-in-law from a closet, terrified. he was-- had the gun outside the closet. and she was inside, hiding. keith morrison (voiceover): what'd you hear about that? he was out there. it was a pump gun, i guess. and he was racking the pump action up and down and telling her to come out. keith morrison (voiceover): cal later denied it was true that he'd been fighting or threatening michele with a gun. then, in 1999, michele learned cal was having an affair. she was devastated, but not ready to end the marriage. and cal said he wasn't either. michele said that, you know, we can work through this. but you know, you got to get rid of the girl. she worked up at the cortland dealership. keith morrison (voiceover): they did what they could to salvage the marriage.
it didn't work. she told her family he cut off her spending money. she took up with a young man in november, 2000. a month later, she told cal she wanted a divorce. her family said, he didn't take it well. and things in that big house in paradise grew strained, indeed. why did she stay in the house? her attorney had advised her to stay in the house and to not leave. keith morrison (voiceover): so they divided the parenting duties and worked on a settlement. michele got a job as a waitress at a local restaurant and bar. and that's where she was the night of september 11th. she finished her shift about 9:00, had some drinks with two coworkers and then she drove to her boyfriend's apartment, left there about 11:00. and that, sue malvey believed, was the last time anybody saw michele harris. we did a lot of work on a lot of different people early on. and it wasn't until they were eliminated, and then we learned more and more about calvin,
that he became the focus. keith morrison (voiceover): the district attorney even tried to speak to the two eldest children. didn't accomplish much beyond frightening them, apparently. i know i just sat there and cried the whole time. i didn't talk. i wasn't allowed to be in there with taylor, but-- how old were you at the time? i was in fourth grade and he was in fifth grade. so 9 and 10. keith morrison (voiceover): but da jerry keene said he interviewed plenty of other witnesses who convinced him that the police had the right man. in september, 2005, four years after michele harris disappeared, the da charged her husband, cal, with second-degree murder. three state police personnel literally busted into my office and kicked the door open. and the three of them jumped me and handcuffed me and shackled me and walked me out the front door of my office. you got a taste of law and order up close and personal. yeah.
keith morrison (voiceover): the da was going to take the case to trial, even though there was no body, no murder weapon, and even though he himself was, by no means, convinced he could prevail. i thought that it was maybe a 50/50 shot at a conviction. i thought that a jury could go either way. craig melvin: coming up-- oh, it hurts. absolutely. all of it was just taken away. craig melvin: prosecutors come on strong. he told her that he would put her body in a place where it would never be found. craig melvin: when "dateline" continues. [theme music] finally, listening to my wife, i went to a doctor and then i became diagnosed with hodgkin's lymphoma. that diagnosis was tough. i'm a concrete mason. i own my own company. i went from being a guy that could pick up anything i wanted, to having to ask for help.
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keith morrison (voiceover): in september, 2005, four years after his wife michele vanished, cal harris was charged with murder. oh, it hurts. absolutely. you know, i had a good standing in the community. yeah. i had a successful business. donated my time and money and resources to a lot of good causes in the community. raised my kids in that community. and you know, all of it was just taken away. keith morrison (voiceover): but the tioga county da had become convinced that cal killed his wife, late on the night of 9/11. and the children slept, disposed of her body. the more i met with the people that were close to michele, and that knew something about the case, the more convinced i became that you know, he really did this.
keith morrison (voiceover): the trial began in may, 2007, with the prosecution claim that cal harris was a man used to being in charge of everyone and everything in his life. he's in control of his businesses. he's in control of his wife. he's in control of his finances, his employees, and his children, and just kind of a domineering person. keith morrison (voiceover): more than that, said the prosecutor, cal harris could be volatile. michele began keeping notes about what she said was abusive language and behavior. in fact, she won a temporary order of protection against him. what he said to her was, i wouldn't need a gun to kill you. and if i did kill you, they'll never find your body. in the heat of passion, people say terrible things to each other. doesn't mean they kill them though. but he went beyond saying terrible things to her. he told her that he would put her body in a place where it would never be found. and that's like, one of the biggest facts of the case, that we've looked and looked and looked for this woman's body
and have not been able to find it. keith morrison (voiceover): the harris family babysitter, a woman named barb thayer, testified that she was the one who found michele's van parked at the end of the long driveway. she goes into the house, and she yells, is michele here? because her car's at the end of the driveway. and the defendant, without missing a beat, he just said, we'd better go get the car. keith morrison (voiceover): according to the babysitter, cal didn't seem surprised. gerald keene: doesn't ask for any questions about the keys, like he knows that the keys were in the van. this is an interpretation of a person's reaction. yeah, you're right. but it's all these hundreds of little things that convinced me that he's just not acting like someone would act if they didn't know what had happened to their wife. keith morrison (voiceover): later that morning, when new york state troopers talked to cal, they too made note of his demeanor. sue malvey: he seemed kind of unconcerned. he was more concerned with getting michele harrison's van
cleaned up and back on the lot. keith morrison (voiceover): the motive, said the prosecutor, was simply money. cal had learned that michele was demanding an appraisal of the car business. did she intend to take a piece of it in the divorce? all of a sudden, everything is out of his control. keith morrison (voiceover): so the argument went, if michele disappeared, cal's problems did too. he was going to have his finances scrutinized. he was perhaps not going to be able to stay in the marital residence. certainly, his children were leaving. and the next day, all those things were back in his control. keith morrison (voiceover): finally, that blood evidence. prosecution witnesses called it medium-velocity spatter that had been left there only recently. i think it could very well have been the most important part of the case, as far as placing michele bleeding
in the house, with some force having been applied to that blood, and no explanation for it. keith morrison (voiceover): so what happened that night? prosecutor keene put his theory to the jury. gerald keene: she got home that night at about 11:30, parked her car, went in through the garage door. and that as soon as she got inside the house, she was struck with something by the defendant. keith morrison (voiceover): she went down on the kitchen rug, he said, was struck again-- that blood spatter. so this would put her down, either on her knees or on her bottom, as she's being struck. and the blood spatters on the door and on the carpet. took her back out into the garage and laid her down on the garage floor. she must have bled some onto the garage floor. because there's an area, three feet by six feet, where blood was found. keith morrison (voiceover): then, said the prosecutor, cal tried to clean up
before he disposed of the body. he would have then taken the car back down to the end of the driveway, walked back up to the house and disposed of the body during the seven hours or thereabouts, before he called mrs. thayer. keith morrison (voiceover): the defense attorneys tried to swat it all down. and cal harris himself was adamant he had nothing to do with his wife's disappearance. it's one thing to say look, i'm innocent. i didn't do this. but it's another thing to have so many people accusing you and pointing the finger at you. now, look, i'm-- i'm not guilty. i didn't do this. i didn't commit this crime. keith morrison (voiceover): there was no body, no murder weapon. and the defense said the forensics were unconvincing, at best. but the jurors weren't having it. it was june, 2007. they came back guilty. cal harris broke down and sobbed. because i knew i was going to not see my kids. i knew i wasn't going home that night. keith morrison (voiceover): yeah. you know? and i knew how they were going to be.
and just-- it was overwhelming. keith morrison (voiceover): but in the eyes of michele's family, it was finally justice. and then-- then an extraordinary thing happened. my first reaction was, come on. the judge is not going to accept this guy's claim. keith morrison (voiceover): a new witness with an amazing story. and it turned the harris case on its head. craig melvin: coming up-- man: as i was going by the harris property, there was a blonde woman out there. looked like she was crying. i know it was her. craig melvin: had someone seen michele? it was the most bizarre story that you could have ever told. craig melvin: get ready for trial number two, when "dateline" continues. [music playing]
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welcome back. i'm craig melvin. in 2007, cal harris was convicted of killing his wife, michele. but there was still a small glimmer of hope. a new witness was about to come forward who could possibly shed light on what really happened that night michele disappeared. here again, is keith morrison. keith morrison (voiceover): what happened here in little owego, new york, in august, 2007,
was almost unbelievable. cal harris, convicted of killing his wife, michele, was about to be sent away for 25 to life. and suddenly, it all blew up right in da jerry keene's face. i came into the courtroom thinking that the defendant was going to be sentenced. and it ended up being more of my being on trial. keith morrison (voiceover): who on earth had the power to make this happen? he did, kevin tubbs. i know that she was there, ok? i know she was. keith morrison (voiceover): kevin tubbs, a plainspoken, rough farm worker back then was hauling hay. and why was he so important? because after six years during which tubbs swore he barely registered the fuss over the harris case, he picked up a paper and saw the story of cal's conviction. and-- i seen that and you know, i started like, recalling, you
know, thinking like, oh my god. keith morrison (voiceover): just like that, he suddenly knew, he said, that what he saw the morning after 9/11, the morning michele harris disappeared, was important. it was between 5:30 and 6:00 in the morning, he said. he was hauling a load of hay. as i was going by the harris property, there was a blonde woman out there and a young gentleman, you know, in his early 20s. keith morrison (voiceover): standing by a pickup truck. my lights is right on 'em. keith morrison (voiceover): and hardly more than 10 feet away, he said, he looked straight at the young man, saw he was dark haired, muscular, and visibly angry. he looks at me like this, like, you know, what do you want? keith morrison (voiceover): and the woman? she was looking down. just by her face, looked like she was crying. she was either upset or wasted. keith morrison (voiceover): the woman, he said, he was certain of it, was michele harris. i know it was her.
keith morrison (voiceover): was it true? if kevin tubbs really did see michele in the early morning hours of september 12th, then the prosecutor's case was in ruins. because cal harris couldn't have murdered her some seven hours before. and an innocent man had just been convicted. and so the judge tossed out the verdict, called for another trial, and sent cal home to his kids. many, including michele's family, thought tubbs' story was bogus. everybody knew he was lying. you know, i mean, it was the most bizarre story that you could have ever told. keith morrison (voiceover): and of course, when trial number two opened in 2009, the prosecution attacked tubbs' credibility. why did he wait six years to come forward? still, for the defense, tubbs was pure gold. a man to create reasonable doubt. there simply isn't enough evidence to convict cal harris of murder. keith morrison (voiceover): bill easton was one of cal's attorneys. there's not an eyewitness to it, an ear witness to it.
he didn't confess to it. none of this direct evidence is present in this case. keith morrison (voiceover): the prosecution argued that cal showed how unfeeling he was by failing to join the search for michele. well, that was nonsense, said his aunt mary. cal was simply trying to keep it all together for his small children. there were dozens, maybe hundreds of experts scouring the area, looking for her. and there was one person taking care of these four kids. keith morrison (voiceover): and that alleged motive, that cal was worried the dealerships would take a hit because of the divorce? not so, said cal's side. his lawyer told him michele couldn't touch the business. and that anyway, before she vanished, michele had decided to accept cal's settlement offer, $740,000. she had indicated to numerous people she was happy with the settlement. keith morrison (voiceover): besides, said aunt mary-- there was plenty of money to go around.
and no amount of money would have made cal say, aha, you know, for $2 million, i'm just going to wipe her out. keith morrison (voiceover): then there was the blood, the spatter in the kitchen alcove. could've been a cut finger, said the defense. and anyway, nobody could really tell when it was left there. and as for a prosecution claim that cal tried to wash away blood on the garage floor-- there a small amount of diluted blood, which was found days after. the new york state police had walked through this particular area of the house while they were conducting the search. but walking on it is not going to destroy the blood cells they can-- it can dilute it if their boots are wet. keith morrison (voiceover): finally, the defense decided jurors needed to hear from cal harris as a caring father, not as the murdering husband the state made him out to be. so the defendant took the stand. it was nerve racking at first. you know, obviously my life is on the line. and my kids are-- you know, their lives are on the line. keith morrison (voiceover): he admitted to an affair,
blamed himself for the end of the marriage, but denied he'd threatened, hurt, or tried to control michele. if anything, he said, michele had been living a bit of a wild life, staying out all hours just before she disappeared. she came and went as she pleased. she had money to spend. wasn't tracking her down. the babysitters were here. the nannies were here. she was off doing whatever she was-- i didn't even know what she was doing. keith morrison (voiceover): was it enough? the jury deliberated for almost two days. and it wasn't. guilty, again. takes your breath away. you know, it's like getting stabbed in the stomach. just-- i'm numb, you know? i had already been through it once. keith morrison (voiceover): family and friends stepped in and took care of his small kids, who began a weekly ritual, visiting dad in prison. taylor, the eldest. you go and you get to see him for two hours a week.
and you got a bunch of other people talking, and it's loud, and can't really have a private conversation. yeah, leaving was definitely the hardest part for us. i mean, he held it together well, but-- what was it like driving home? it was quiet. keith morrison (voiceover): watching his kids walk away week after week, said cal, was unimaginably hard. that was the worst. i went back to my cell and just laid there for hours and hours and just closed my eyes and tried to block it out. keith moison (voiceover): three years rolled by. but then came a day in october, 2012, when cal harris found himself crying for joy in the prison yard. craig melvin: coming up-- keith morrison (voiceover): it is rare, though. i mean, this is really rare, for that to happen. yeah. craig melvin: a new chance at freedom and new urgency from the kids. this was kind of our time to come out and do our part. craig melvin: and a whole new theory of the case. it's all coming together. it's time to look elsewhere.
craig melvin: trial number three, when "dateline" continues. [theme music] just walk right in and pay zero dollars with most insurance.r. plus, when you get a flu shot at walgreens, you help provide a lifesaving vaccine to a child in need through the un foundation. it's that easy to get your flu shot and make a difference. so swing by your local walgreens today. walgreens. at the corner of happy & healthy. steve chooses to walk over the26.2 miles,9 days... that's a marathon. and he does it with dr. scholl's.
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keith morrison (voiceover): had cal harris won the lottery it could hardly have been more surprising than the news he heard in the prison yard in october, 2012. this is rare, though. i mean, this is really rare, for that to happen. yeah. keith morrison (voiceover): what happened? new york's court of appeals overturned cal's second murder conviction, said the trial judge made mistakes during jury selection, and when he allowed hearsay testimony. so the appeals court ordered trial number three. and cal, once again, went home to the house on empire lake, and his four growing children. tanner, the youngest, was in eighth grade then.
the rest were in high school. that was great. what a change, huh? what a remarkable-- we were back to normal. it was easy. keith morrison (voiceover): yeah? yeah. didn't take long, to adjust? well, he had to adjust to what our plans were and what-- well-- well, you had been coping on your own for so long. now, this time, this third chance, the kids were determined, this would be different. we want to know that our dad will not be taken away from us again for a crime we know he did not commit. keith morrison (voiceover): it was a very public coming out. kayla addressed the cameras. the rest of the kids and their teary-eyed dad stood by. we can not sit here in silence and watch another travesty of justice take place. keith morrison (voiceover): the family launched a tip line, asking the public to help find out what really happened to michele. it was march, 2014. it's time for a real investigation that will get us answers. i think that it was a good thing for us to finally
come out and talk about it. how did it feel to do it? good. we all knew this was kind of our time to come out and give our side and you know, do our part in this. keith morrison (voiceover): cal hired new lawyers. and they condemned the state for an investigation which they said was blind to any suspect but their client. lead defense attorney, bruce barket. they've pursued this man for 14 years, with scant evidence. evidence that really, no prosecutor should bring a case on. keith morrison (voiceover): the defense went back to witnesses the police had interviewed years before, talked to others, and heard a whole new story of michele's last hours on earth. earlier trials, they said, revealed the mother of four had been hanging with an unsavory crowd, co-workers and customers from her waitressing job. attorney aida leisenring. there were people there that had criminal records. there were people there that were dealing drugs. there were people there that were making sexual advances. keith morrison (voiceover): and on the night
she vanished, after she left her boyfriend's place, they now knew, they said, that michele did not go home. because one of those witnesses reported seeing her later that night with another man, a local steelworker. attorney, donna aldea. on september 11th, on that night, in a bar, in a dance club, he actually said. and that he was there. but then he left the two of them alone and he went home. keith morrison (voiceover): the steelworker spotted with michele was a regular at her restaurant, said the defense. his name was stacey stewart. the defense said, he told his friends he had a sexual relationship with michele, and said the defense, stacey stewart appeared to be the very man kevin tubbs saw with michele in the early hours of september 12th. there was a blonde woman out there and a young gentleman, you know, in his early 20s. tubbs identified that man from a photograph. his physical appearance, his facial hair, his height, his age, and the type of vehicle he drove.
tubbs said the man he saw was standing beside a black truck. stacy stewart owned a black truck, same kind. and it's a new model, and it's a chevy. and you look everything up, and it's all coming together. stacey stewart has denied any involvement in michele's disappearance. he's denied he ever had a relationship with michele, said he was never even alone with her. still, cal's side was convinced that stewart and a friend of his played some role in michele's disappearance. in 2015, trial number three opened in the town of schoharie. a change of venue necessary, said the defense, because the case was too well-known in tioga county. and the defense managed to get some of the prosecution's case thrown out. the state wasn't allowed to suggest, as it had before, that the blood was spilled around the time michele disappeared. to have forensic scientists get up and-- and speculate and guess at how old blood was based upon
the color from a photograph is an outrageously unsupported proposition. keith morrison (voiceover): also out? hearsay testimony from prosecution witnesses who said michele told them that cal threatened her life. we don't think they belonged in the evidence. it was part of the reason the case was unfair the first time and the second time. keith morrison (voiceover): then the defense attempted to present its evidence about that alternate suspect, stacey stewart. and the judge shut them down. the jury would only be allowed to hear stewart's name, that michele knew him, that kevin tubbs had id'd him, and that he owned a black truck at the time, no more. why? because stacey stewart wasn't on trial. cal harris was. the wrong man, his attorneys insisted. cal did not deserve to be on trial. and frankly, michele and the-- her family deserve better. we all want to know what happened to her. it's time to look elsewhere. keith morrison (voiceover): there was a new prosecutor this time, tioga county's kirk martin.
he made the same arguments as the previous da, saying the evidence pointed to cal harris killing his wife. the trial took three months. and finally, late april, the jury got it. and the waiting began. michele's family, still convinced that cal was guilty. is there a corner of your brain that thinks god, maybe it was somebody else? not at all. not at all. keith morrison (voiceover): while cal and his family hoped the jury had been persuaded otherwise. you know, you have been confident before when you've gone on trial. because you have said, i didn't do it. i should be acquitted. and yet, you weren't. so how does that impact your thinking now? just by what bruce and his team have done in the investigation. it's got to create some doubt. and we didn't have that before. keith morrison (voiceover): so uncertainty, by this time, it was a way of life for the children.
so i think, you know, if things don't go our way, it will definitely turn all of our worlds upside down. but i think we're-- i know we're tough enough that we'll get through it. but you know, you definitely don't like to think about that kind of thing. we definitely have plans in what we want to do, when it's all said and done and over with, and the good end turns out. want to talk about that at all? vacation. yeah. somewhere cool. keith morrison (voiceover): maybe. maybe not. it's the end of cal harris's third murder trial. his lawyers were determined to show there was reasonable doubt in the case. but would that be enough to persuade the jury? coming up-- breaking news out of the schoharie county courthouse. craig melvin: would you believe trial number four? shocked i was truly shocked. craig melvin: when "dateline" continues. [music playing]
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welcome back. 14 years after michele harris's disappearance, her husband, cal, was on trial again, charged with murder. as cal's lawyers argued all along, the police had the wrong man. but what would the jury decide? here with the conclusion to our story is keith morrison. keith morrison (voiceover): in cal harris's first two trials, jurors returned their verdict swiftly.
third time, deliberations dragged. finally, almost two weeks in, the jurors made it clear they simply could not reach a verdict. breaking news out of the schoharie county courthouse. the third cal harris murder trial has been ruled a mistrial by the judge. keith morrison (voiceover): a mistrial. it was the outcome nobody wanted. we got closer to justice, but we're not there yet. keith morrison (voiceover): michele's family, convinced they knew the truth, that cal murdered michele, left the courthouse without comment. not right now. keith morrison (voiceover): and tioga county prosecutor kirk martin vowed to do it again. there have been two guilty verdicts in this case. and i eagerly await the earliest possible trial date that fits with the court's schedule. keith morrison (voiceover): a fourth trial? really? yes, indeed. in march, 2016, deja vu all over again. same courthouse, same cast of characters, with one notable newcomer. how are you?
good, how are you? keith morrison (voiceover): judge richard mott. when cal waived his right to a jury trial, the new judge suddenly had a starring role in trial number four. he would decide the case. he'd also decide whether to hear the defense's new evidence. in the end, he allowed some, but not all. lead defense attorney, bruce barket. but the truth has finally began to peak its head at this trial. we finally begin to see at least an outline of who is actually responsible for michele harris's demise. keith morrison (voiceover): a peak or two, that's all. barket made the most of it, quoting testimony about something that steelworker stacy stewart once said, something about michele. he says, i was the last person to seen with her when she was alive. defense attorney said they wanted to put stacey stewart on the stand, but couldn't track him down. so now, in closing, barket didn't offer a detailed theory about what happened to michele.
didn't have to. i'm asking the court to find mr. harris not guilty, because there's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he committed this offense. keith morrison (voiceover): four trials. and now, it was all on the line. and so da kirk martin came on strong. that whole defense theory, he told the judge, was a fantasy. there's no evidence stacey stewart had any sort of relationship with michele, let alone any reason or motive to harm one hair on her head. keith morrison (voiceover): finally, said the da, after so many years, so many trials, it was time to convict cal harris, once and for all. michele died at the hands of her husband, the defendant, calvin harris. keith morrison (voiceover): so what would the judge do? we presented the evidence about what we think happened. keith morrison (voiceover): the judge was terse, his verdict brief, with no explanation just two words. words cal harris and his children had waited 15 years to hear, not guilty.
when he came back with the not guilty, i was just-- i was shocked, i was truly shocked. keith morrison (voiceover): shocked, overjoyed, and saddened by what he'd lost. the best years of um-- --my life as a parent. and i'll never get those years back. keith morrison (voiceover): he will also never stand trial for his wife's murder again, exonerated now, and free, finally, to speak his mind about his terrible 15-year ordeal. from my standpoint, personally, i think one of the greatest hypocrisies in our country is our criminal justice system. there is nothing fair about it. keith morrison (voiceover): now, a man goes free, vindicated. but the mystery endures, about a woman who vanished on a warm september night while the rest of the world was looking the other way.
that's all for this edition of "dateline." i'm craig melvin. thanks for watching. [theme music] 'm craig melvin. and i'm natalie morales. and this is "dateline." i'm craig melvin. >> i'm natalie morales. >> this is "dateline" p. she was a married mother two of. >> there was nothing about her life that would raise any red flags. >> she amazed them all. her whole group of girlfriends at the gym. >> she was totally dedicated. >> heather, turn around. you've gotten smaller. >> a stunning 200-pound weight loss. and a whole new life came with it. >> you could see that transformation. you could see the confidence in her. >> then, she was gone. missing at school. >> i called all the girlfriends. >> we're going to find you one way or the other. >> the clues.