March 6, 2014— -- Cal Harris's teenage children wiped tears from their eyes as their father spoke publicly for the first time, proclaiming his innocence in the mysterious disappearance of his estranged wife 13 years ago and asking the public's help for new information.
"For the past 13 years, my children and I have endured under extremely difficult circumstances," Harris told the media Wednesday in Owego, N.Y. "We love each other and need to be together. Unfortunately, we have another trial in September of this year."
The Harris family announced the launch of a new confidential phone tipline they hope will bring in fresh clues ahead of Cal Harris's third trial. He is again charged with the murder of his wife, Michele Harris, who vanished in Tioga County, N.Y., the morning after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Her body has never been found.
The 35-year-old mother of four had filed for divorce from Cal Harris in months prior to her disappearance. In the days after 9/11 attacks, much of the state's law enforcement resources were sent to the World Trade Center in New York City.
"Up until now, I have tried to shield my children from the public's eye," Cal Harris said. "However, they have reached the age where they understand what's going on and want answers for themselves. ... As I have stated before, from Day One I did not have any involvement in Michele's disappearance. I would never hurt the mother of my children, and I would never do anything to hurt them."
Harris' eldest daughter, Cayla, addressed the crowd of media, family and friends in her own prepared statement.
"We plead to those of you who can help us to please come forward with any information," Cayla Harris said. "This nightmare has unjustly affected our family for most our lives. We lost our mother, and our father has been taken away from us for long periods of time."
In stepping into the public eye before their father's trial, posters of the Harris children -- Taylor, 19, Cayla, 18, Jenna, 16, and Tanner, 15 -- were also released, reading, "13 years after Michele Harris disappeared ... her kids want answers."
"The plea from the children will hopefully sway some people," attorney Bruce Barket said at the news conference. "At this point in time, it's important to get the public [to] respond to us and ... frankly it was our decision along with the kids, who really wanted to support their dad, to come forward. And we think that will give us the best chance of getting information."
Private investigator and former NYPD homicide investigator Jay Salpeter, who is working with Cal Harris's defense team, revealed that, prior to the announcement, the tip line had already received seven confidential calls.
Nearly four years after his wife disappeared, Cal Harris was charged for the first time with second degree murder in connection with her death.
In 2007, a jury of six men and six women found Harris guilty of one count of second degree murder. However, that conviction was thrown out and a new trial was ordered when a witness came forward following the verdict offering new information relevant to the case.
In 2009, Harris was, once again, found guilty of second degree murder and was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. Three years later, the New York state Court of Appeals reversed the murder conviction and ordered that Harris receive a new trial.
Now, 13 years following his estranged wife's disappearance, Cal Harris is preparing for his third trial in connection with the murder.
In a move that defense attorneys believe to be a small victory, this upcoming trial will be held in Schoharie County, about 120 miles from Tioga County, where Harris's previous two trials were held.
People with information have been asked to call the confidential tipline, 607-215-5166.