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Victim's Daughter Testifies at Murder-by-Car Trial

January 30, 2003|Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON — In the darkened cabin of her stepmother's Mercedes-Benz, Lindsey Harris thought the drama was over for the night. Clara Harris had just shouted at her philandering husband and wrestled his mistress to the floor of a hotel lobby, but now appeared to be calm.

Silently, Harris put the car in reverse and began to drive out of the hotel parking lot. Without warning, she "stomped on the accelerator and went straight for my Dad," testified Lindsey, 17, at Harris' murder trial Wednesday.

"I'm going to hit him," Harris told the teenager.

David Harris, a suburban Houston orthodontist, died July 24 after Clara Harris' car struck him. Prosecutors say Harris, bent on avenging her husband's adultery, used her car as a murder weapon. Her lawyer contends that the 44-year-old dentist acted in the heat of passion, a wife unhinged by her cheating husband.

Six months later, all Lindsey knows for sure is that her father is dead, and that her stepmother is to blame. "She knew what she did and she wasn't sorry," said Lindsey.

In testimony mixed with flashes of fury and tears, the teenager described how Harris enlisted her support after learning about her husband's affair with his receptionist, Gail Bridges.

"We became very close," Lindsey said. "We went shopping a lot. She would tell me pretty much everything that was going on and made me feel part of the family." Lindsey, David Harris' daughter from a previous marriage, spent summers and holidays with her father and Harris.

Lindsey was upset with her father. "I never thought he'd do something like that to her. He went to church and loved Clara," she said.

David Harris told his daughter that he felt neglected by his wife after the birth of their twin boys three years earlier. Clara Harris tried to control the damage by making "herself real pretty so Dad would want her and not Gail," said Lindsey.

In the week before the murder, Harris went to a tanning salon and a beauty shop, joined a gym and consulted with a plastic surgeon about liposuction and breast implants, her checkbook register shows.

When Lindsey learned that her father and Bridges were meeting at a steakhouse on July 24, "I figured he was breaking up with her," Lindsey said.

Though Harris had hired a private detective to tail her husband that night, she and Lindsey set out to do their own surveillance. When David Harris wasn't at the steakhouse, Lindsey drove her stepmother's car -- with Clara Harris in the passenger seat -- to Bridges' house, then to a hotel and two other restaurants the couple had frequented.

"She was on a mission to find where he was," said Lindsey. By the time they tracked him down at a hotel, Harris was livid. "She said she could kill him and get away with it for what she's been through," Lindsey testified.

David Harris and Bridges entered the hotel lobby hand in hand, Lindsey said. Her stepmother ran to them and began slapping Bridges and ripping her shirt, she added. After it was over, Clara Harris led Lindsey to the Mercedes.

This time, Harris got in on the driver's side. "She wasn't saying anything. She wasn't crying," said Lindsey.

When Harris suddenly accelerated, Lindsey was thrown against her seat and saw her father put his hands on the hood of the car, shouting, "Stop!" she said. "He was trying to get away but couldn't."

Harris was expressionless as she steered the car over a concrete median, then circled around the lot, said Lindsey. She said she "felt a bump" as the car ran over her father. "I was yelling, 'Stop, you're killing him!'"

Lindsey testified that Harris ran over her father three times.

When the car stopped, Lindsey ran around to the driver's side. "I hit her because I knew that she had killed my Dad," said Lindsey.

If convicted, Harris could be sentenced to life in prison. If jurors find she acted under the legal definition of sudden passion, she could receive a two-to-20-year sentence.

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