Houston Chronicle

Jan. 24, 2003, 1:25PM

Harris witness testifies death scene 'like movie'

Houston Chronicle


Clara Harris is accused of running over her husband after catching him with his receptionist at a hotel.

Photo gallery: From the arrest to the trial
The jury: What we know about them
The indictment

Jury chosen - Jan. 22.
Video Preparing for the trial - Jan. 19.
(Video courtesy of KHOU, Ch. 11. Webcast and video require Real Player)
From the Chronicle's archives:
The story of Clara and David Harris: They epitomized success and happiness, but underneath the facade... - Jan. 19
The wife: Mother of twins kept to herself - Aug. 4
The mistress: Mistress not a stranger to the spotlight - Aug. 4
The married couple: Victim wanted to end marriage - July 27
After striking her orthodontist husband with her Mercedes-Benz and sending his body across a hotel parking lot, Clara Harris drove in circles over the body four times, put the car in reverse and ran over him again, a witness said Thursday.

"It was almost like a movie," front-desk clerk Paul Garrett Clark, 25, said during the first day of testimony of Harris' murder trial.

After state District Judge Carol Davies adjourned Thursday's proceedings, prosecutor Mia Magness said that Clara Harris last Friday tried to call her stepdaughter, who is expected to be a state's witness. Magness also said that the teen's paternal grandparents, who are being supportive of Clara Harris, also have been leaving messages on their granddaughter's cell phone. None has spoken to the teen.

Lindsey Harris, who was a front-seat passenger in the Mercedes-Benz when her father, David L. Harris, was killed, "is feeling pressured," Magness said.

The judge declined to admonish Harris or the grandparents for their actions. Defense attorney George Parnham said he had told Clara Harris and the grandparents not to try to contact Lindsey, 17.

Clark, one of four Hilton Hotel Inn employees who took the stand Thursday, said David Harris was standing beside the vehicle of his mistress, Gail Bridges, when Clara Harris roared around the corner, all the time "cackling."

"I looked up and saw his face. He had bulging eyes," Clark said of David Harris, 44, before he was struck the evening of July 24. "There was a terrified look in his eyes."

Clark said that as Harris drove around the side of Bridges' 2000 Navigator, she grazed Clark, and then hit her husband, propelling David Harris' body about 25 to 30 feet, before coming to a stop. Clark was not injured.

Clara Harris, he said, then drove across a section of the parking lot and a grassy median before running over her husband the first time. She continued in a circular pattern three more times and then stopped, put the car in reverse and ran over him a fifth time.

Buster Dean / Chronicle
Witness Evangelos Smiros describes how he saw David Harris fly through the air after Clara Harris struck him with her car.
During his description, Clara Harris sat with her head down, and cried.

Clark was able to show the nine-woman, three-man jury the path Harris' car took by drawing on a projector shown on a wide-screen television. Jurors were shown aerial shots of the hotel parking lot.

Under questioning from Magness, Clark also said that while Clara Harris was driving in circles, he could tell that Lindsey Harris, David Harris' daughter from a previous marriage, was in the front seat screaming and trying to get out of the Mercedes-Benz.

"Please stop. Please stop the car," Clark said he heard Lindsey say.

Despite her pleas, Clark said Clara Harris continued to run over her husband.

After coming to a complete stop, Clark said, Harris got out of the car and ran to her husband and was repeatedly calling out his name.

Lindsey Harris, he said, was screaming.

Clark said both Lindsey and Clara Harris had walked into the hotel a couple of hours before the incident. Lindsey told him her brother was sick and that she needed to find her father.

Lindsey had Clark check the hotel registry for David Harris and also gave him the names David Bridges, Gail Bridges and Gail Harris. Clark told Lindsey he could not find any of the names as being registered.

Clark had checked David Harris and Bridges into Room 604 of the hotel at 6 p.m. David Harris had asked "for a nice room" and paid in cash, he said.

He also said he recognized Lindsey and Clara Harris as having been at the hotel a day before. The two women, whom he assumed were mother and daughter, ate at the hotel's restaurant. While there, he said, it appeared Clara Harris was crying and Lindsey Harris was comforting her.

As they walked through the lobby, Clara Harris went to the front desk, asked what the hotel rates were and then asked to see a suite.

About 8:30 p.m. on July 24, Clark said he looked up from the front desk after hearing shrieking and screaming.

"I looked up from the front desk computer station and I saw Clara Harris pulling and screaming at Gail Bridges," he said. Harris was pulling Bridges' hair and had pulled her to the floor.

"I jumped over the front desk to assist in the situation. No one else was and it looked pretty serious," he said.

He got between the women by getting on top of Bridges while she was on the floor. Clara Harris, meanwhile, continued to throw closed-fist punches. She struck Clark three times in the right temple, he said.

All the while, David Harris was standing off to the side and never intervened.

Clark said Bridges was never able to get in a punch, had her blouse ripped and her purse contents strewn across the lobby.

Bridges, he said, asked him to "please help me get to my car. I've got to get out of here."

Clark said he obliged, and said David Harris was walking behind them at a distance through the parking lot.

Under cross-examination, defense attorney Parnham questioned Clark about the inconsistencies in his testimony on Thursday compared with his statement to Nassau Bay police about an hour after the incident.

Clark told Parnham he did not remember Harris "cackling" as she ran over her husband but only heard screaming. His police statement said Harris "drove across David Harris while she continued to scream and laugh."

His statement to the police also did not mention that the Mercedes-Benz had come to a complete stop after initially striking David Harris. He also neglected to enter Harris' name into the hotel computer and also told police that Clara Harris slapped Bridges, not punched her with a closed fist.

In earlier testimony, hotel employee Evangelos Smiros said that after the hotel lobby altercation, he escorted Clara Harris out of the hotel. As she was standing on one side of the hotel's front entry, she looked across the drive and glared at her husband.

David Harris, he said, was yelling, "It's over! It's over!"

Smiros said he walked Clara Harris to her car, which was parked in front of the hotel at 3000 NASA Road 1. After she backed up normally, he said, she "peeled rubber," causing her tires to squeal. He said he chased the car and was pounding on the trunk yelling, "Stop! You're going to hurt someone!"

Smiros testified he chased the car through the parking lot and heard a "thump." He said he saw Harris run over her husband three times while another hotel employee said he saw her run over him twice.

Smiros said after the Mercedes-Benz came to a stop, a sobbing Clara Harris got out of the car, went to her husband, leaned over him and said, "Are you OK?"

Another hotel employee testified he heard Harris apologize and tell her husband she loved him.

The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, will resume this morning.

Copyright 2003 Houston Chronicle