ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A once-prominent auto dealer urged the top court in New York state on Tuesday to overturn his conviction for murdering his missing wife, citing limited circumstantial evidence and trial errors.
Defense attorney William Easton told the Court of Appeals that motive and intent, without a body, are not enough in this case. His client Calvin L. Harris, now 51, was convicted of killing the mother of their four children 11 years ago during a fractious divorce. He is in Auburn state prison, eligible for parole in 2034.
‘‘There was DNA evidence from blood, but there was blood of extremely small volume of indeterminate age in the residence of the victim,’’ Easton said. ‘‘There is motive and intent. We would say the motive and intent would not be enough in this case without a body or an explanation.’’
The defense lawyer has maintained there’s no viable theory for how Harris could have killed her at the house where they both still lived with their children, then disposed of her body within the supposed time frame, less than eight hours, and the limited geography. Harris called the baby sitter about 7 a.m. the next morning, saying his wife hadn’t come home and he needed help getting the kids ready for the day. The couple lived in Spencer, a small community in New York’s Southern Tier, which stretches along Pennsylvania’s northern border.
Tioga County District Attorney Gerald Keene argued Tuesday there also was an overheard threat by Harris, and he emphasized the small blood spatters and that the house was in a remote area.
Michele Harris, then 35, was last seen leaving work as a waitress the evening after the 9/11 terror attacks, though a later witness said he saw someone resembling her about 5:30 a.m. the next morning arguing outside her home with another man.
The prosecutor said she had told her boyfriend that evening that she was going home, where she slept in a separate room from her husband.
Calvin Harris was co-owner of several upstate car dealerships. In the pending divorce, his net worth was estimated at about $4 million. His wife could have gotten up to half of the wealth accumulated during the marriage, and prosecutors saw that as a motive.
‘‘There was strong evidence of motive, intent, the threat that he had made to her that was overheard by her hairdresser,’’ Keene said. ‘‘There was opportunity. They live out in the middle of nowhere. ‘‘
Keene has maintained that some small blood spatters in the kitchen entryway and garage floor supported his theory that Harris hit his wife with a blunt object, imperfectly cleaned up, and buried her somewhere among thousands of acres of woods and trees.
‘‘It was very thin the blood evidence, literally and figuratively,’’ Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said.
The seven judges are expected to rule next month.
Easton also claimed the trial court made errors including refusing to exclude a juror who admitted having an advance opinion on guilt that might play ‘‘a slight part’’ in her consideration of the evidence, allowing prejudicial hearsay and excluding the statement of another belated witness claiming to have seen Michele Harris the next morning.
A midlevel court split 3-1 in affirming the conviction.