— -- Upstate New York businessman Cal Harris, who was found not guilty last week in his fourth murder trial for his wife’s disappearance, said knowing the legal saga was over was a “total relief.”
“Just all this pressure and all this weight on my shoulders for so long ... Finally, some calm in my life,” Harris told “20/20” moments after the verdict was announced on May 24.
For 15 years, Cal Harris has been adamant that he did not kill his estranged wife, Michele Harris, who has been missing since 2001.
For his fourth trial, Cal Harris waived his right to be tried by a jury. Schoharie County Judge Richard Mott delivered the verdict. Harris’ convictions in his first two trials were overturned, and his third trial ended in a hung jury. He faced second-degree murder charges at all four trials.
The couple’s four children, who are now estranged from their mother’s family, have stood by their father throughout the ordeal.
“He was gone for four years at one point,” said his daughter Cayla Harris, 20. “That’s a lot of time to miss when you’re growing up as a kid.”
Cal Harris said the long legal battle has drained a large portion of his fortune. He is currently trying to sell his 250-acre estate. He and his legal team say they will file a civil suit in the coming months alleging misconduct by the Tioga County district attorney and New York State Police.
“They were enjoying every moment of going after me. It was sport for them. It was entertainment for them,” Harris said. “What we have on them is going to be shocking when it comes time for the trial.”
Michele Harris vanished in Tioga County, New York, the morning of Sept. 12, 2001. Her minivan was parked at the end of the Harrises’ long driveway, with the keys still in the ignition. She was 35 years old at the time, and she and Cal Harris were getting divorced, but they still lived under the same roof with their children. Her body still has not been found.
Authorities have said they ruled out any other suspects during their investigation. District Attorney Kirk Martin has repeatedly declined to comment to ABC News on the case. At a press conference after the fourth trial, he stood by the investigation’s findings and said, “I have a job and a responsibility to pursue justice.”
Cal Harris was first arrested and charged with Michele Harris’ murder four years after she disappeared. Prosecutors argued that small drops of blood found in the Harris home suggested she had been attacked by her husband, and they had found a witness who said he heard Cal Harris threaten her. He was first found guilty in 2007, even though much of the prosecutors’ case was based on circumstantial evidence.
But shortly after the verdict, a new witness, Kevin Tubbs, came forward and said he saw a blond woman the morning after she was thought to have been killed, arguing with a man who was not Cal Harris at the foot of the Harrises’ driveway. The judge overturned the verdict.
The prosecutors brought a second trial, and in 2009, Harris was found guilty of second-degree murder again. That verdict was overturned on appeal because of two procedural errors, one regarding the impartiality of a juror and the other regarding insufficient instructions to the jury regarding hearsay testimony allowed during trial.
During the third trial in 2015, the judge allowed the jury to hear Tubbs’ testimony but did not allow the defense to present evidence related to possible new suspects, saying much of it was circumstantial and other portions were hearsay. On May 16, 2015, the jury came back deadlocked, and a mistrial was declared.
Now with the fourth trial behind the Harris family, he and his children are looking for ways to move forward.
On the morning of his father’s acquittal, Taylor Harris, 21, learned he was accepted into college. Daughters Cayla and Jenna Harris chose to attend nearby colleges to be close to home during their dad’s legal battle, but now Cayla Harris is starting to look at schools as far away as the Midwest. Now that he has been exonerated, Cal Harris said he is excited to start looking at colleges with his youngest son, 17-year-old Tanner Harris.
Though they have grown up mostly without their mother, the Harris children hope her memory will not be forgotten.
“Everyone always says that her smile would light up the room,” Cayla Harris said. “I try to be the person she would want me to be.”