As citizens of the United States, we rely on the legal system to protect us from those who inflict harm. It’s this reliance that keeps us feeling safe, and puts us at ease when we walk outside. We never expect a murderer to live next door, or if we do, we believe the police will find out and put them behind bars. However, what happens when the legal system fails? When there is a lack of evidence against a suspected killer, even when the public has faith that that person is a murderer? The answer isn’t always easy to conclude, and in the legal system, faith is no substitute for hard facts.
Cal Harris had been spending his life with his wife and four children in Tioga County, Pennsylvania when tragedy struck. Having had a number of car dealerships in his possession, a net worth in the millions, and a well-provided family, Harris seemingly had a stable life. However, around the turn of the new millennium, there had been a split in Harris’s household, and he and his wife had been planning to divorce. Those close to the Harris family had reportedly said the split was proceeding without any qualms, and was set to end on Cal Harris’s terms. But on September 11, 2001, the unexpected happened. Harris’s soon to be ex-wife disappeared from the family home without a trace.
Though it was Harris who first reported her missing, detectives pinned him as the primary suspect. The detectives wanted to know, did Cal Harris murder his wife? An investigation led authorities to searching his home in Tioga County. News sources at the time indicated the detectives found small splatters of blood in Harris’s home. Despite their efforts, the investigators were never able to turn up Michele Harris’s body or a murder weapon. Nevertheless, the investigation continued, and in 2005 authorities placed Harris under arrest on the charge of second-degree murder in the disappearance of Michele Harris. The evidence which led to the conviction were the blood splatters, and one witness’s testimony that Harris had threatened his wife prior to her disappearance.
Two years after the murder charge, a judge and jury passed down a guilty verdict on Harris, and he went to jail. Harris maintained his innocence, and began fighting the charge against him. Because there was no hard evidence — no murder weapon, no body — Harris and his lawyers felt they still had an advantage of getting him off the hook.
Less than six months after his conviction, Harris went back to court. This time a new witness came forward and claimed he had saw Michele Harris carrying out a quarrel with an unknown man outside of the family’s home prior to her disappearance. The testimony swayed the judge, who overturned Harris’s conviction. However, during a trial two years later, a judge and jury again convicted Harris on the murder charge, and he went back to jail.
That conviction was again overturned when the lawyer’s representing Harris found one of the jurors had a bias against Harris. During his release, Harris hired a group of lawyers to hopefully track down his missing wife, or at least find out what had happened to her. That attempt, however, turned up nothing. It wasn’t until 2016 that a judge and jury at last acquitted Harris of the charge against him.
After 15 years, Harris was finally free from the legal system’s attempt to convict him of murder. To this day, people still ask what had happened to Michele Harris? She remains missing, with no trace of her whereabouts. There is a split amongst those who know about the case; some believe Cal Harris murdered his wife, and some believe there is not enough evidence to say whether or not he is guilty.