Dagmar Polzin doesn't care what other people think. What matters most to her is saving the life of the man she loves … even if he is a convicted killer on death row she first saw in a Benetton fashion ad in Germany.
Wearing a black dress and still visibly tense after an appearance on television earlier this week, she brushed her blonde-streaked hair to the side and folded her hands in the dressing room she shared with her attorney as she tried to explain her most unusual love affair. So what if she gave up her life in Germany and moved to North Carolina to be near a man she barely knows? Polzin says she loves condemned prisoner Bobby Lee Harris and will do anything to save him from execution.
"I love this man," Polzin told ABCNEWS.com. "If it's the last thing I do, I want to save his life because there's been an injustice."
Polzin was prepared to watch Harris die early this morning, but a judge Wednesday issued a stay of execution. Prosecutors from the state attorney general's office appealed the decision, but the North Carolina Supreme Court upheld the stay Thursday and scheduled a Feb. 20 hearing on Harris' case.
Polzin and Harris' lawyers are hoping North Carolina Gov.-elect Mike Easley will spare Harris the death penalty and grant him clemency, sentencing him to life in prison without parole. Easley's office said he will not decide on clemency for Harris until the appeals process is completed.
Harris was convicted for the 1991 stabbing death of his employer at the time, Onslow County fisherman John Redd. Prosecutors say Harris and his co-worker Joe Simpson planned and carried out Redd's slaying during a robbery attempt while they were out on a shrimping boat.
Harris allegedly confessed to stabbing Redd. But his attorneys and Polzin argue that Redd could have survived the attack — hospital officials did not give him the blood transfusions he needed soon enough. They also argue that Harris should not be held fully accountable for his actions because he is borderline retarded with an IQ of 75 and had been drinking heavily in the hours leading up to the slaying.
'Something in His Eyes'
Before Polzin got involved with Harris and his fight against the death penalty, she said she led a "very normal life" as a waitress in a hotel in Hamburg, Germany. Her life changed when she saw Harris' face in a Benetton bus stop ad in late 1999. Harris was one of the prisoners the Italian clothing company featured in anti-death penalty ad campaign that caused Sears, Roebuck & Co. to dump Benetton's line from its stores last February after an outcry from victims rights groups and threats of a boycott.
For Polzin, that first encounter with Harris was not controversial; it was almost love at first sight.
"It was something in his eyes … there was this remorse, sadness," Polzin said. "I was attracted. I'm a woman, and I knew he was the one."
Polzin then wrote to Harris and as the two communicated through letters for months, she grew to love him and became convinced that he did not deserve to die. By last September, she had visited Harris. The two were separated by a glass partition, not allowed to touch, embrace, or kiss. By October, she had moved in with relatives in Raleigh, N.C., to be near Harris and help his case.
Marriage Postponed, Motives Questioned
Polzin says she is allowed to visit Harris once a week for an hour-and-a-half. It's tough, she says, but "we make the best of things."