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Hung jury ends 3rd trial of NY man accused of killing wife

SCHOHARIE, N.Y. (AP) — A judge declared a mistrial Friday in the murder case against a man with two previous convictions for killing his estranged wife in the hours after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Schoharie County Judge George Bartlett’s decision came a day after jurors said for a third time they couldn’t reach a verdict on whether Calvin Harris killed Michele Harris. She vanished after leaving her boyfriend’s apartment.

The jury deliberated for 11 days after a trial that took three months. Prosecutors indicated they will try Harris for a fourth time.

“I eagerly await the earliest possible trial date that fits with the court’s schedule,” Tioga County District Attorney Kirk Martin said.

Harris’ previous two convictions were overturned, leading to a third trial focusing on what happened to 35-year-old Michele Harris after she left her boyfriend’s apartment.

Outside the courthouse Thursday, Harris read a statement in which he professed his innocence and thanked the jurors.

“Your faith in me was not misplaced. I did not have anything to do with Michele’s disappearance. One day I hope to be able to prove that to everyone’s satisfaction,” Harris said, adding that he would continue to “pursue the truth about what happened to Michele.

“I want to urge Michele’s family and the law enforcement community to please consider that you are wrong. You have been pursuing the wrong person. My children and I are begging you to look someplace else for Michele and investigate someone else.”

Prosecutors said Calvin Harris, wealthy from his family’s car dealerships, killed Michele when she returned to the Southern Tier home they shared with their four young children. Her body was never found, and prosecutors relied on a largely circumstantial case.

Although the couple was getting divorced, they still lived in the same house. Calvin Harris had told people she would not get half his business, according to court records.

Defense lawyers argued that authorities overlooked other people that Michele Harris associated with as her marriage broke up and she took a waitressing job for extra money. The trial judge severely limited the defense team’s ability to call witnesses implicating other suspects.

Harris’ previous two trials were held near his home in the Southern Tier. The third was held at a neutral site more than 100 miles to the northeast. The children showed up at key points during the trial to support their father, now 53.

Michele Harris disappeared as the nation was riveted by the Sept. 11 attacks. A baby sitter found her empty minivan at the end of the couple’s driveway on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001 — hours after she was last seen alive.

A jury found Calvin Harris guilty of second-degree murder in 2007. But that conviction was overturned after a local farmhand belatedly came forward saying he saw a blonde who looked like Michele Harris in the driveway that morning with a younger man.

That led to a second trial and a second conviction in 2009. That was later overturned by New York’s highest court based on trial court errors.

Lawyers are scheduled to return to court Aug. 12 for a conference to determine the next steps.

Defense attorney Bruce Barket said the verdict was not everything they wanted but “it is progress” after two previous convictions. He said they would continue to develop evidence against other potential suspects as they prepare for another possible trial.

“We’re not going to stop, we’re going to keep pursuing it,” he said.

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