Calvin Harris to spend 25 years in prison
OWEGO, N.Y. - The Tioga County Courthouse was filled on Monday as Judge James T. Hayden handed down a sentence of 25 years to life to Calvin Harris for the death and disappearance of his wife, Michele Harris, in September of 2001.
This sentence was the maximum sentence for Calvin Harris' conviction of second degree murder, with the minimum sentence being 15 years to life.
Standing next to his attorneys in front of the judge, 48-year old Calvin Harris said that there were no words to describe how he was feeling. "The fact that this has gotten this far is beyond belief," Calvin Harris said of his claims of innocence and the prosecution's fight to find him guilty.
"I've said from the beginning that I'm innocent, and I can tell you I didn't do this," Calvin Harris continued. "They obviously think I have the ability to make people just disappear," said Calvin Harris. "I didn't run, I didn't hide, I have done nothing wrong and I have nothing to be ashamed of," Calvin Harris continued with conviction.
And then with a bit of tears, Calvin Harris said that he will fight this every step of the way, and if this were tried in another county he would have been found innocent. He also said that his children deserve better and that he will get his family back together again.
But this statement didn't persuade Judge James T. Hayden as he proceeded to hand down the maximum sentence for second degree murder, 25 years to life.
Hayden based his sentence on three factors - the fact that the defendant took a life, deprived his children of their mother and disposed of Michele's remains in such a way that they would never be found.
With some emotion, Hayden said that after observing that there has been an enormous gut-wrenching heartache around this case, that the court is careful not to allow emotions to govern sentencing. "One can never truly trust emotions as assuring principle," said Hayden as he prepared to hand down his sentence.
He also added that Michele Harris was subjected to the worst form of violence, and was subjected to such violence in his home. "This sentence must dissuade others in the community who are contemplating killing."
District Attorney Gerald Keene, following the sentencing, stated that he disagreed with Calvin Harris' statement that the outcome would have been different if he were tried in a different county.
"We had good, strong circumstantial evidence of guilt and I think he would have been convicted regardless of where he was tried," said Keene. "I think the defendant got a fair trial and a fair shake."
The defense attorneys appeared frustrated during the sentencing, and commented after the proceeding that they were going to file an appeal immediately.
"We got directed to file an appeal and we're going to do it today," said Defense Attorney William Easton out of Rochester, N.Y. "We're going to attack it right away and will be filing a notice of appeal right now."
The defense lawyers have stated continually, throughout the series of trials, that someone else was responsible for Michele Harris' disappearance, and that the investigation failed to look at evidence that was directing elsewhere.
One argument involves a letter from a man, John Steele, that claimed to have seen Michele Harris hours after prosecutors alleged she was killed. The letter was not allowed into evidence at the Harris trial.
Hayden on Monday denied the recent request from the attorneys to have the verdict dismissed based on the inadmission of the Steele statement. Because the prosecuting attorney responded to the recent motion from the attorneys regarding this inadmission and submitted an affidavit in which Steele's son challenged John Steele's credibility, Hayden said that the witness would have had to be cross-examined. Because Steele died, the cross-examination would not be possible.
"Cross-examination is an essential and fundamental part of our trial process," said Hayden. "The son raised issues that would be appropriate for cross-examination of Steele if he were to testify," he added. "The ability to cross-examine the witness about his son's affidavit would be lost and the jury would be left to speculate."
Hayden also addressed the motion by defense attorneys that requested the verdict dismissed based on the decision by Judge Hayden to not sequester the jury during deliberations. To this request, Hayden only noted that the court finds nothing to reverse that. Based on these judicial decisions, the motion filed prior to sentencing by the defense attorneys was also denied.
Family and friends of both Calvin Harris and Michele Harris were in Tioga County Court for the sentencing Monday, and some spoke out.
"There's no body, there's no evidence, there's no witness," said Dwight Harris, Calvin Harris' father, to media that was waiting outside the courtroom. "It's ridiculous," he added.
Merry Harris, Calvin Harris' Aunt, said, "This is typical Tioga County," as she departed the courthouse.
Jackie Casella, whose son was coached by Calvin Harris, cried when the sentence was read. "If it were my sister I would have felt good about the sentence," said Casella. "But we know him and his kids ....it's a tremendous loss for them."
Greg Taylor, Michele Harris' brother, felt good about the sentence, but noted to the media that it won't bring Michele Harris back.
Family of both Calvin Harris and Michele Harris have endured eight years of speculation, two trials, two convictions, and now one sentence.
For now, Calvin Harris will serve 25 years to life in prison, and it will be up to the State Appellate Court to decide if Harris will get another chance in court.