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Cal Harris: The Final Verdict

Two convictions overturned, one hung jury and a fourth trial for the wealthy businessman accused of killing his wife

Produced by Lisa Freed, Ruth Chenetz, Marc B. Goldbaum and Anthony Venditti.

Over the past nine years, Cal Harris has gone on trial for the murder of his wife, Michele, four times. He was convicted twice, even though Michele's body has never been found. Both verdicts were overturned. A third jury couldn't decide. Now a fourth trial. Will this be the final one for Cal Harris?

2014

"As I have stated before, from day one, I did not have any involvement in Michele's disappearance. I would never hurt the mother of my children," her estranged husband, Cal Harris, told reporters at a press conference in March 2014. "For the past 13 years, my children and I have endured under extremely difficult circumstances."

"Cal Harris calls it a press conference. I just call it desperation. He's got to try something new. What he's been doing isn't working," said Shannon Taylor, Michele's sister-in-law.

"We need to know what really happened to our mother. We know our dad had nothing to do with her disappearance. We also know there are people out there with information who can help us get answers," Michele and Cal's daughter, Cayla Harris, 18 at the time, addressed reporters.

"It's been 13 years almost of hell," said Greg Taylor, Michele's brother. "We had the first trial -- he was found guilty ... The conviction was thrown out. ...Finally had a second trial. He was found guilty again ... and the conviction was over turned."

"Twenty-four people totally agreed that he was guilty. You cannot get two people to agree on what color your hair is," said Greg's wife, Shannon Taylor.

"We do another trial and another one. I mean when's it gonna stop?" said the Harris' former nanny, Barb Thayer. "If I was one of the 24 jurors from before, I would be so pissed."

"48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty and Cal Harris
"48 Hours" correspondent Erin Moriarty and Cal Harris
CBS News

"Are there misconceptions that people have about you?" Moriarty asked Cal Harris in his first television interview before his third trial in February 2015.

"Yes absolutely," he replied. "That I'm this cold, calculating killer, I'm greedy, that this is all about money. ...People are only getting one side of the story."

"What has that been like for the last 13 years?" Moriarty asked.

"It's been horrible," he said in tears. "Horrible. It's been a nightmare. I've been ripped away from my kids three times now. Three times now I've had to sit in a jail cell or a prison cell and wait for a judge or judges to overturn this thing. ... I feel like I'm being kidnapped in broad daylight ... and no one can do anything about it. "

"...he had the financial means to ...hire law firms to ... find some ...technicality," said Greg Taylor, Michele Harris' brother. "If it was anybody else, we wouldn't be going through this again."

"I'm being put in a position that no one should be put in-- and that is I'm having to solve this case to save myself, so I can be with my children," said Harris.

"I have to ask you this question. Everyone wants to see you answer it. Did you have anything to do with the disappearance -- of your wife?" Moriarty asked.

"...absolutely not," Harris replied.

"-- did you kill her," Moriarty asked.

"Not even close," he replied.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

"Has any of your children asked you ... whether you had anything to do with your wife's disappearance?" Erin Moriarty asked Cal Harris.

"No," he replied.

"Your dad says that not one of you have -- has ever asked him ... whether he was involved. You haven't?" Moriarty asked the Harris children.

"Because we already know," said Cayla.

"There's been no doubt," said Taylor.

"So, you haven't had to ask?" Moriarty asked.

"Never, no," they replied.

"September 12th of 2001 ... was a long time ago, but it's the day that I lost Michele," said Barb Thayer, the Harris' nanny at the time."

For the Harris children, that date changed their lives. For Thayer, it all started when she was awakened by an unexpected phone call.

"It was like 7:00 in the morning ... and it was Cal," Thayer explained. "He said, 'Barb, can you come help me get the kids ready for school. Michele didn't come home last night.' And I said, 'What?' And he said, 'Michele's not here, I need to get the kids ready for school.' ...'And I said I'll be right there.'

"I remember when I was driving up there, I kept saying to myself, 'Michele, where the hell are you?" Thayer continued. "And I went in through the garage. And I hollered and I said, 'Cal, Is Michele here?' And he said, 'No, she's not.' And I said, ' Well, her car is at the end of the driveway.' And he said, 'Well, we gotta go get it."

"8:05 on September 12th ... that is the time that will stick in my head for the rest of my life probably," said Nikki Burdick.

Most every morning at that time, Burdick would call her close friend, Michele. But on the morning of Sept. 12, Barb Thayer answered the phone.

"Nikki said, 'Barb, what are you doing there?' And I said, 'Michele never came home,'" said Thayer.

"She did not spend the night out. That was not Michele," said Burdick.

"I called Michele's cell phone. I knew that something happened to Michele," said Burdick: "Where the hell are you? ... You need to call me as soon as frigging possible."

Tioga County in upstate New York, where Michele Harris lived, is the kind of place people go to escape the crime of the big city.

"A murder in Tioga County, it's a pretty rare occurrence," said New York State Police Captain Mark Lester.

"What about disappearances?" Moriarty asked.

"Even more so," he replied. "For an actual person to go missing and not be able to find 'em is extremely rare."

The disappearance of Michele Harris mystified Capt. Lester.

"Normally you would expect at some point along this way we're gonna find her ... And we still haven't been able to find her remains," he said.

It was unusual that Michele's van would be sitting at the end of her driveway in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, 2001.

"There was a gut feeling, I think, right from the get-go that something was wrong," said Lester.

But getting a search under way, on the day after Sept. 11 wouldn't be easy.

"We had just sent five or 600 troopers to New York City the night before," Lester said. "So trying to gear this thing up quickly wasn't happening -- as easy as it normally would."

Adding to the pressure, Michele was the wife of Cal Harris, a prominent businessman from a wealthy and influential Tioga County family.

"It's a family with, you know, significant stature in the community," said Lester.

The patriarch, Dwight Harris, bought a string of car dealerships that his three sons helped him run. Michele, fresh out of college, was working as a secretary at one of the dealerships when she caught the eye of Dwight's youngest son, Cal.

"She is, to this day, she is one of the most beautiful women I've ever seen ... And then I got to know her. She's funny and outgoing," Cal Harris told Moriarty.

"Michele was just like a magnet. She was beautiful," Thayer said. "And she was a happy person. And she was young -- I think that that was something that thoroughly attracted Cal."

And Cal was a "catch" -- an outstanding athlete in high school, an all-American lacrosse player in college, and by the age of 27, a successful businessman.

"I think it was like a Cinderella story," said Thayer.

Michele, the older of two children from a working class family, had never met anyone like Cal.

"Michele came from a small town, not a wealthy family or anything like that. And then here's this man that-- kinda sweeps you off your feet. And you know, you travel and ... you do fun things," said Thayer.

Michele and Cal Harris with their children
Michele and Cal Harris with their children
Cindy Turner

It was a fairy tale romance, and no one was happier than Michele when she married Cal and became pregnant. By the time she was 33, she had four children under the age of 6.

"Michele was the emotional, the loving, the caring, the one that did the daily stuff, Cal was the provider," said Thayer.

And he provided well. Michele and Cal lived on a 252-acre estate, complete with a private lake.

"God, we would go snow mobilin'. We would go water skiing," said Tom Turner.

Cindy and Tom Turner spent most weekends with the couple.

"You could tell they loved each other very much," Tom said. "I mean, they always wanted to be around each other. Always, always."

If there were any marital problems, Michele kept them hidden from friends and family, including her sister-in-law, Shannon Taylor.

"I thought that her life was absolutely perfect. You never saw her when she wasn't smiling or laughing," she told Moriarty.

Until Michele's fourth child was born -- that's when Shannon would learn life at the Harris house was no longer quite so perfect.

"I had no idea. I remember saying that to her. Oh, my gosh. I had no idea," she said.

Michele began talking about Cal's temper and his controlling behavior.

"... everything just had to be absolutely perfect," said Shannon.

"And if it wasn't what would happen?" Moriarty asked.

"Oh, he'd scream. He'd yell. He wanted her to dress a certain way," she replied.

"Cal had told her that she was born in Tioga Center, raised in Tioga Center, and she'd die in Tioga Center. Like, 'You're smalltown. You're beneath me,'" said Thayer.

Then Michele discovered Cal was having an affair. "She was devastated," said Shannon.

How does Cal Harris respond? He would only speak with "48 Hours" prior to trial if we would agree to certain restrictions. His attorney, Bruce Barket, was there to stop Harris from answering some questions, with the explanation that there were some things he preferred to "leave to the courtroom."

Cal and Michele tried to save the marriage, but in January 2001, after 10 years, Michele filed for divorce.

Shannon and Michele's brother, Greg, say Cal did not want the divorce.

"No. No. He told her many times, 'You will not divorce me,'" said Greg Taylor.

Greg says it was a bitter split as Michele fought with Cal over money, demanding a full accounting of his businesses.

"There's no way that he was gonna let Michele take his family money," said Thayer.

The situation was made even worse because the couple -- forced by the courts - continued sharing the house.

"It was extremely tense. You know, there'd be a lotta times when I'd be there and they'd be hollerin' back and forth," said Thayer.

But on Sept. 9, 2001, the Harris' nanny remembers a change in Michele-- she seemed happier.

"She says, 'I'm finally getting my life back. I can't believe how I feel,'" said Thayer.

Thayer says that while Michele hadn't told her husband yet, she had decided to accept a financial offer from Cal and finalize the divorce. Three days later, just hours before she was supposed to meet her lawyer, Michele Harris disappeared.

THE INVESTIGATION

"I've never seen ... the number of twists and turns that have been generated by this case," said New York State Police senior investigator Sue Mulvey.

Mulvey, now retired, became involved in the Harris case after receiving an unexpected phone call on Sept. 12, 2001.

"Michele Harris' divorce attorney had come forward and said she was missing, that she hadn't returned home which was way out of character for her. And he was sure something really bad had happened," she said.

Shannon Taylor also feared the worst.

"I said to the secretary when I walked out of my office, I said, 'I'm going. I don't know when I'll be back. I am pretty sure that my brother-in-law killed my sister-in-law," she said.

"So, you felt that immediately," said Moriarty.

"Uh-huh," Shannon affirmed.

And so, less than one hour after Michele's divorce lawyer made the call, investigators Mike Myers and Mike Young arrived at Cal Harris' dealership to question him.

"He was very calm, and - unemotional," said Young.

"He didn't seem to us that he was trying to hide anything or stop us from doing anything," said Myers.

If Cal had something to hide, he sure didn't act like it. He even took the investigators back to his house so they could look around for themselves.

"Was Cal willing to take you through every room?" Moriarty asked.

"Absolutely," said Young.

"Upstairs, downstairs. We probably coulda spent as much time in there as we wanted," said Myers.

"Anything unusual that caught your eye when you went through the house?" Moriarty asked.

"No," said Young.

And when Cal returned to his office, he left Young and Myers free to search his property on their own.

"He wasn't concerned at all about us being in his house or at the end of his driveway. There was no problem," said Myers.

The investigators didn't see anything that alarmed them, but to Myers, Cal seemed almost too unconcerned.

"He comes across as -- personable and cooperative. To me, it seems like there's just a little something missing," he said.

Cal Harris denied he had anything to do with Michele's disappearance. Instead, he told investigators to take a closer look at Michele herself.

Michele Harris missing poster
New York State Police

While she was still sharing the house with her husband, Michele was living the life of a single woman. While Cal reportedly cut off much of her allowance, she began working nights at a local restaurant. Suddenly, she had freedom, money of her own and new men in her life.

Once she disappeared, the men became suspects. On top of the list: 23-year old Brian Earley. Not only was Michele dating the much younger man, she was with him the night she disappeared.

"You were one of the last people to see her alive, Brian," said Moriarty.

"Last person who is admitting to it," Earley replied.

"Well, that puts you in a bad spot, doesn't it?" Moriarty noted.

"Yeah," he said.

On the evening of Sept. 11, Earley admits Michele had stopped by his apartment after work. He says she left to drive home just after 11 p.m.

"I walked her to her van, closed the door. I leaned in the window, gave her a kiss goodnight, told her I loved her, see her tomorrow. She backed out of my parking spot -- drove away," Earley said.

Earley, a land surveyor living in Philadelphia, started dating Michele after he met her at a local bar in the fall of 2000.

"Said she had four children. Said she was not happy with her marriage," said Earley.

That Michele was married and still living with her husband didn't worry Brian Earley. In June of 2001, he gave up his job and home to move to Tioga County just to be near Michele. He even gave her money to help buy a house in Owego.

"Was that everything you had?" Moriarty asked Earley.

"No. It was a good chunk of it," he replied.

"You must have really -"

"I loved her," said Earley.

And he hoped to marry Michele as soon as her divorce was final. But, Barb Thayer says Michele didn't see the relationship in quite the same way.

"Michele was certainly not gonna go from what she was just going through and -- turn right around and get married," she said.

But Earley wasn't the only man Michele was seeing. Michele had also dated co-worker Michael Kasper -- a secret she kept from even her closest friend, Nikki Burdick.

"That I did not know about. I -- think I was as surprised as -- anybody else that found out about that," she said.

As it turned out, before Michele saw Brian on the night she disappeared, she had drinks after work with Michael Kasper.

"Did he have an alibi for that night?" Moriarty asked Mulvey.

"No, he did not," she replied.

Drinking with Michele and Kasper was another co-worker: Michael Hakes. A routine look into his background took investigators by surprise.

"I think when we saw what Hakes' background looked like, that -- that got our antennas up," said Lester.

Hakes is an ex-convict with a serious record.

"He had a - rape conviction in Arizona - and had served 10 years in prison," said Mulvey.

And there was another man, Stacy Stewart, who recently moved to town and frequented Lefty's.

"I think maybe she gave him a ride one night. I don't even know," said Shannon.

"You think if she were worried about someone she'd tell you?" Moriarty asked.

"Oh yeah," Greg replied. "She told us that she was worried about Cal Harris -- that's the one person she ever mentioned or talked about being afraid of was Cal."

New York State Police forensic specialist Steve Andersen was sent to the Harris home to take a closer look. It is because of what he found there that the investigation zeroed in on Cal.

"It was quite obvious to me that we had blood spatter in the house," he said.

Andersen says he found tiny specks of blood on a kitchen doorway that investigators who had been in the home just two days earlier didn't see.

"They obviously missed it. And -- apparently Cal Harris missed it, too," he said.

That clinched it for investigators. They were now convinced they had found a crime scene.

FOCUSING IN ON CAL HARRIS

What happened to 35-year-old Michele Harris, who was last seen late on the night of Sept. 11, 2001? Friends and family still wonder why her body hasn't been found.

"We want the person responsible for her not being here to be held accountable," said Michele's brother, Greg Taylor.

"It's actually hard to believe. I think we always expected to know -- to find something that would make this case crystal clear," said sister-in-law-Shannon Taylor.

The mystery of Michele's disappearance has weighed heavily on her friends and family. But they say Michele's estranged husband, Cal, seemed to move on immediately.

"He took up a relationship with his old girlfriend," said Barb Thayer.

"How soon after Michele disappeared?" Moriarty asked.

"The night of Michele's birthday, which is September 29, so that was like 18 days," she replied.

Thayer continued to watch the children for Cal Harris after Michele disappeared.

"He never asked me, 'Have you heard from Michele? Did Michele call you? Is she wondering where the kids are?' He never mentioned Michele to me. And I worked for him for a solid year afterward," she said.

Asked if Cal called him, Michele's father, Gary Taylor, said, "No."

"He didn't call you? He didn't say, 'Oh, my God, I'm really worried about your daughter?'" Moriarty asked.

"No," he said.

Cal and Michele Harris
Cal and Michele Harris
Cindy Turner

Gary Taylor was deeply troubled by Cal's apparent lack of concern.

"When we'd have birthday parties for the kids, he would drive 'em down sometimes. But he would never look at you or look at you in the face. So that's when it became kinda more evident to me that I think he might have had more to do with it than I was initially thinking," he said.

"You knew something had happened to Michele. But who did you think was responsible for her disappearance? Moriarty asked Nikki Burdick.

"Her husband. There was never a question. Never, ever a question," she replied.

But weeks turned into months, and no arrest.

"The investigators would call and say, 'don't worry,'" said Gary Taylor.

"But at the time it had to be incredibly frustrating..." said Moriarty.

"Yeah. I was thinking, you know, 'Is the money gonna buy him out of this?'" he replied.

Investigators also believed that Harris killed his wife, but they simply didn't have much of a case. Without a body or murder weapon, there is no cause of death. In fact, there's no proof that Michele is dead at all. What the police did have were those small drops of blood in the kitchen and garage. And there was Cal Harris himself: what he did after his wife disappeared and what he didn't do.

"He never made a phone call that morning to find out where she was," Mark Lester said. "If the mother of your children, who takes care of them every morning, suddenly doesn't show up, I think your first reaction is gonna be to pick up the phone and make a call and say, 'Hey, where the hell are ya?'"

Nikki Burdick says Cal's demeanor was completely out of character.

"If he got up in the morning and she wasn't there, he'd be flippin' his gourd," she said. "That is not in his personality to be calm, cool and collected about anything."

"Cal is a very explosive person. He has a temper," said Thayer.

But that morning, Thayer says, Cal was unusually calm about Michele's disappearance. And after looking through Michele's van, she says he made a strange request.

"He said, 'Oh, my gosh, this car is a mess. He said, 'I want you to drop it off at the dealership and I'm gonna clean it from top to bottom," she said.

"He doesn't know where his wife is. And he's telling you to bring the van into the dealership so they can clean it from top to bottom?" Moriarty asked.

"Right. It just reinforced that-- to me, that there was something wrong," she said.

Thayer also found it odd that following Michele's disappearance, Cal seemed unconcerned about security.

"The locks were never changed," she said. "And security codes weren't changed ... And the house was never kept locked."

"Were you scared that if someone could take Michele, someone could take the kids?" Moriarty asked Harris.

"Well, no, because we were safe here. The accusation is that this crime took place in this house. And it didn't - there's nothing that happened here and we've always been safe here," he replied.

"48 Hours" was restricted from delving into issues likely to come up at trial, like the strange story Michele told her brother and sister-in-law.

A few months before she disappeared, Michele said that Cal had threatened her.

"She said it kind of in a laughing way you know," Shannon Taylor said. "Ha, ha, ha, I got the perfect place to put your body, they'll never find you."

"You didn't think Cal was kidding or just saying that off the top of his head?" Moriarty asked.

"Well, that's not something you say unless in the back of your mind, you think, you know, 'I might just do this,'" said Greg Taylor.

But Cal's friends, Kevin O'Hara and his wife, Tracy, see his behavior in a different light.

"It's interesting that people who haven't gone through a certain situation are very, very quick to say that someone else should have reacted or acted in a certain fashion. To me the way he acted was Cal," said Kevin O'Hara.

The local state police, convinced that Cal had buried Michele's body, focused the search in and around the Harris property. They used helicopters in the air, dogs on the ground.

"They were here -- they were all over the property," said Harris.

"Did they ever find any sign that either any of Michele's property or her body anywhere?" Moriarty asked Harris.

"None," he replied.

The search went on for a year, then two. After four years and no sign of Michele, investigators felt it was now or never.

"The case wasn't getting any better. There were really no new significant leads or evidence coming in. But win, lose, or draw this case had to go to trial," said Lester.

So on Sept. 30, 2005, four years after Michele disappeared, Cal Harris was arrested and charged with her murder.

"That was a shock," Harris said. "They came busting down the door in my office, three of them. ... Handcuffed my feet and walked me out in front of my employees and my customers. I wasn't going anywhere."

And a legal battle spanning a decade began.

THE TRIALS

"When I'm around town, you know, I get the stares and the glares and mumbling in the background," Cal Harris told Erin Moriarty. "And then to have it in front of a community and my kids are part of that community, especially that they're older ... it's horrible."

Nothing has quite divided the town of Owego, New York like the murder trials of Cal Harris.

"The people of Owego are frustrated," Greg Taylor said. "That it's ... never ending."

In 2007, six years after his wife disappeared, Harris, out on half a million dollar bail, went on trial for the first time.

Jerry Keene, Tioga County's district attorney at the time, prosecuted the case.

"I think that he is a powerful man. I think he's a smart man," said Keene.

"Have you ever had a case where there was no body and you've prosecuted someone for murder? No body? No witness. No murder weapon. Nothing?" Moriarty asked Keene.

"No. This was the most difficult case that I've ever done," he replied.

But Keene did have that small amount of blood evidence inside the house: six drops of Michele's blood on the kitchen doorway, more drops on a kitchen throw rug and on the garage floor. With so much riding on that evidence, the prosecution recruited renowned criminologist Henry Lee.

"Some action have to create this bleeding," said Lee.

Lee says the pattern of blood spots in the door way was caused by two separate blows to Michele from some kind of blunt instrument, even a fist.

Senior forensic investigator Steve Andersen demonstrated Dr. Lee's blood spatter explanation for "48 Hours" using red dye.

The first blow, they say, knocked her down. The second hit caused her blood to fly.

"The spatter was approximately a millimeter in size and some smaller than that," Andersen explained. "To get that size you have to apply a force to break that up into smaller droplets and propel it through the air."

"But isn't it normal in a family's home to find blood? I mean, people bleed. There's kids. People bleed," said Moriarty.

"Yes. But normally, not medium velocity impact spatter," said Andersen.

Relying on that blood evidence, Keene was able to convince the jury that Michele was killed in her own home, and Cal Harris was convicted of second-degree murder.

"What went through your mind when you heard that verdict, 'Guilty,'" Moriarty asked Harris.

"I was in shock. My stomach just fell out. I couldn't breathe. My first thought was I'm not going home," he said. "I am not gonna see my kids tonight."

And then, just days before Harris was to be sentenced, a new witness came forward: Kevin Tubbs, a local farmer.

"Do you think Cal Harris is innocent?" Moriarty asked Tubbs.

"I think he's innocent," he replied.

Tubbs says six years earlier, at dawn on the morning Michele disappeared, he drove past the Harris driveway and saw two vehicles.

"There's a -- man at the back of the pickup. ...There's a woman at the side of the pickup. ... She was a blonde-haired woman. ...It appeared that she was crying. ...And it appeared that he was a little upset," Tubbs recalled. "And it's a woman that I believe was Michele Harris."

If Tubbs really saw Michele at around 5:30 on the morning she disappeared, then Cal Harris wouldn't have had the time to kill her. Prosecutors argued that Tubbs was mistaken, that it was too dark at that hour to see what he says he saw.

"I have always said that I cannot be 100-percent sure," Tubbs said. "If people want to believe it, they can. If they don't, there's nothing I can do about it."

But the judge believed Tubbs and threw out Cal Harris' conviction.

"I'm sittin' there in my orange jumpsuit and my handcuffs and he said, 'Take the handcuffs off,'" Harris said, his voice trembling.

"Still emotional to think about it," Moriarty noted.

"Yup," an emotional Harris replied.

Jerry Keene vowed to prosecute him again. In the meantime, Harris was allowed to go home on bail for the next two years.

Then, in June of 2009, Harris went on trial for the second time. Unlike the first trial, Harris took the stand, but his testimony did not convince jurors -- and once again, he was convicted.

Cal Harris on the stand during his second trial.

Cal Harris on the stand during his second trial.

CBS

"Devastating, devastating," Harris said of the verdict.

"And this time, you're going to prison for awhile," said Moriarty.

"Yeah, three-and-a-half years," he replied. "Very few things can be worse than going to prison."

"It was really hard having to go to the jail every weekend and seeing him in that situation -- it was hard on us," daughter Cayla Harris told Moriarty. " And just not -- him not being home, and having to miss out on things, like birthdays and lacrosse games and, like, special events that your dad should be at with you."

Shockingly, three years later, Cal Harris's conviction was once more overturned -- this time over the judge's handling of jury selection and hearsay testimony. Again, Harris was let out on bail and the stage was set for a third trial -- with a third defense team.

"What we're gonna do is portray Cal for what he really is -- a decent and honest man who was going through a divorce," said lead defense attorney Bruce Barket. "A good father, a loving friend, and an innocent man."

Joining Barket are Donna Aldea and Aida Leisenring. They, like all of Harris' previous lawyers, say the case is weak and that he's been unfairly portrayed.

They plan to question the truthfulness of one of the most important witnesses from Cal's previous trials: Barb Thayer, who was instrumental to the prosecution in setting a timeline, and in depicting Cal as unconcerned.

"When Barbara Thayer testifies she's gonna be confronted with questions and an examination that she has not heard so far," said Barket.

"Barb had no reason to lie. I mean, Barb loved my sister," Greg Taylor said. "Cal has a lot reason to lie."

Phone records show that, on the morning Michele disappeared, someone at the Harris home called her cell phone at 7:14 a.m. Thayer says she, not Cal, made that call looking for Michele.

"I just quickly called her cell phone and I didn't say anything because Cal was in the house," she said. "So I just hung up."

Not true, says attorney Barket. He says Cal made that call from his home before Thayer even arrived. Thayer, he argues, didn't have enough time to drive from her house, and make the early morning call from the Harris home.

"I don't know what's in her head, but I know that she couldn't have made the phone call she claims she made. It's impossible. I drove it. I went out there," said Barket.

"I was frantic. It's not like I was driving 30 miles an hour," Thayer told Moriarty. "I knew there was something wrong. So I was there really quickly."

And, Thayer insists that Cal Harris made a troubling request when Michele had been missing for only a week.

"He said, 'I want you to get rid of -- take everything of Michele's out of this house. And you can have a garage sale.' And he said he'd split the money with me," said Thayer.

"It really wasn't a garage sale in that sense. Barbara Thayer's testimony about what was sold and what wasn't is gonna be belied by what's still in the house," said Barket.

The house is crucial to the defense's case. They have to dispute that important blood evidence found there.

"No reasonable person who has seen a bludgeoning scene, which is what prosecutors maintain happened here -- and looked at this kitchen, would say that was a bludgeoning scene," said Barket.

"The most important thing about it is that the prosecution could not establish when that blood was deposited," said Donna Aldea.

"Barbara Thayer said that she washed that throw rug, so that would at least limit how old that blood was on the rug," said Moriarty.

"No it wouldn't. The suggestion that she washed that rug ... is as ludicrous, as is the suggestion that she made a phone call from Cal's house that day. -- Didn't happen," said Barket.

"I know what didn't happen to Michele Harris," Aldea said. "She was not murdered in that house by Cal Harris."

"Did Michele have secrets that - secret life?" Moriarty asked Barket.

"Yes. There are things about Michele that ... haven't been brought out to this point in time," he said.

NEW TRIAL, NEW VENUE

In February 2015, Cal Harris went on trial for the third time, but not in Tioga County where he lives.

"The local perception of me is just so toxic that I think that the jurors just, in this county, can't walk out of that courtroom with anything but a guilty verdict," Harris told Erin Moriarty.

Instead, the case is being tried two hours away in Schoharie, New York.

In addition to his new defense team, there's a new prosecutor, a new judge and new rules. This time, not even still cameras are allowed inside.

As the trial begins, the prosecution once again lays out its largely circumstantial case, calling some 50 witnesses -- most testifying for the third time.

"It's hard," Barb Thayer said. "We've gotten a verdict twice before. And we have to do it again. It seems a little crazy."

For the defense, this will be a battle to discredit not just the prosecution witnesses, but the crime scene evidence the state is relying on.

"It would have been impossible for him to have done what the prosecutors theorized he's done," said lead defense attorney Bruce Barket.

The defense brings in its own blood spatter expert who says that blood found in the kitchen and garage of the Harris house is not evidence of an assault.

"There is nothing that turns that house into a crime scene. There is no evidence that a crime took place there," said defense attorney Donna Aldea.

And all along, defense attorney Barket takes aim at the victim herself.

"She's been described as a perfect mother. ...The perfect person. The wonderful friend," Barket said. "But that's not the whole story."

"But don't you run a risk ... that you're demonizing the victim to just -- get the heat off of ... your client," Moriarty asked.

"We're not demonizing her. What we're doing is - reporting the facts," Barket replied. "And unfortunately, her lifestyle at that time led her to some dangerous places."

"Do you think Michele's gonna be put on trial here?" Moriarty asked Shannon Taylor.

"They have to try to discredit her," she replied. "They don't really have anything else to work with."

But there is plenty for the defense to work with when it comes to some of the people Michele knew through her job at Lefty's Restaurant and Bar.

"She was clearly seeing a multitude of different people, not just one, not just two ... If you're out drinking late at night with different crowds, you're running a risk," Barket said. "Obviously in this case, something happened."

So just how thoroughly did the police investigate Michele's friends? Like Brian Earley, Michele's boyfriend, who investigators say was the last known person to see her alive.

"Were pictures ever taken of Brian to see whether he had any injuries after Michele disappeared?" Moriarty asked Sue Mulvey.

"No," she replied.

"Was his house checked ... to make sure whether there was any kind of blood or any possible incident in the house?" Moriarty asked.

"No ... and we would have to have some kind of basis to obtain a search warrant," Mulvey replied. "And we wouldn't have had enough ... in my opinion."

Police also didn't search the apartment of Michael Kasper, the co-worker with whom Michele had a secret affair, or Michael Hakes, the man with a criminal history for rape who worked with Michele the night she disappeared.

"Were pictures ever taken of him to see whether he had any injuries to his body?" Moriarty asked Mulvey.

"No," she replied. "We were able to alibi him and he also came forward and passed a polygraph."

"Tell me about Stacy Stewart," Moriarty continued. "He bought property in this area -- was that property ever searched?"

"It was, by Cal's defense team," Mulvey replied. "But again, we never searched it."

Police say other suspects fully cooperated and had no motive to kill Michele. They were eliminated as suspects because investigators believe the murder took place inside the Harris home. What's more, they all passed polygraphs; Cal Harris refused to take one.

"Nobody can credibly point at a polygraph and say, 'Ah ha. We now know if somebody's telling the truth or not,'" said Barket.

"There's a reason that that evidence isn't admissible," Aldea added.

Sue Mulvey calls the police department's work exhaustive and even handed. But Barket claims two men who knew Michele from Lefty's - Stacy Stewart and his friend, Christopher Thomason -- were involved in her death. And he's confident he has the evidence.

"It includes burning of bloody clothes on the morning of September 12th by individuals who were or claim to have been pursuing Michele, having sex with her, doing drugs with her ... Multiple admissions about things like that," Barket said at a press conference.

But Judge George Bartlett rules the evidence presented by the defense "is thin" and is "based largely on speculation," so jurors will never hear about it.

"In nearly 30 years of practicing law, this may be the worst decision I've ever seen," Barket told reporters.

Still, the jury does hear from Kevin Tubbs, who once again testifies that in the early morning hours of Sept. 12, he saw a woman who looked like Michele with a man at the end of the Harris driveway. But this time, there's a new revelation. After years of not being able to definitively recognize either person, in court, Tubbs now identifies a photo of Stacy Stewart as the man he saw.

After three months, the case is finally in the hands of the jury.

"What if you are convicted a third time? What if you are?" Moriarty asked Harris before the trial began.

"I'm blocking it out," he replied.

"I just don't like knowing the fact that we could lose him again. I want him here with me," said Tanner Harris in tears.

Cal Harris and his children
Cal Harris and his children
48 Hours


Harris' children are by his side day after day after day, as all sides wait for a verdict.

"How are you feeling Cal?" "48 Hours" asked as the family walked into court.

"Stressed out," Harris replied.

In the end, no amount of time could help the seven men and five women reach a consensus. On day 12, the judge is forced to declare a mistrial.

"We got closer to justice but we're not there yet," Harris told reporters following the trial. "I wanna urge Michele's family and the law enforcement community to please consider that you're wrong."

"My obligation as a district attorney is to seek justice, and I will continue to do that," Tioga District Attorney Kirk Martin told reporters.

2016: TRIAL #4

On March 31, 2016, Cal Harris went back to court for his fourth trial. This time around, he took a big gamble and asked for a bench trial. That means a single judge, instead of 12 jurors, will decide his fate.

"We thought it through and think that going through another jury trial in the same community is a large potential you are going to end up with the same result," said Barket.

The prosecution's case was essentially the same as before; most of their witnesses were back for the fourth time.

"I submit that that the evidence proves that Michelle was murdered in the act of domestic violence by ... her estranged, controlling husband Calvin Harris who previously threatened to kill her and make her disappear," said Martin.

"They have not found Michelle Harris and they have not solved this case because they have been investigating the wrong man," said Barket.

The defense pinned hopes on new witnesses because this judge, unlike the earlier ones, allowed testimony pointing to other possible suspects, namely Christopher Thomason and Stacey Stewart.

"Kevin Tubbs without ever meeting Stacey Stewart and without ever meeting Michelle Harris," Barket said, "described to a T an individual that matches the description of Stacey Stewart that matches the description of Michele Harris."

But Tubbs' claim that he could identify two people six years after he saw them isn't credible, says Prosecutor Martin.

"I submit that no one upon no one can remember someone they nave never met or seen before and drove past two weeks ago in the dark let alone six years prior," he said.

The judge also allowed testimony from Stewart's ex-girlfriend, who said he told her that he was the last person to be seen with Michele alive.

As in the earlier trials, the crucial issue was that blood evidence found in the Harris home -- which the state claims is proof of a crime scene.

"Michele Harris was attacked by her husband when she walked through that door. Her blood was spattered in the alcove and then she was moved to the garage where she bled on the floor where ultimately killed in the very spot. She bled on the floor of that garage and the defendant cleaned up that blood," said Martin.

"Our common sense tells us there is no way on earth that a violent assault resulting in a murder yielded this much blood ... 10 drops fits in this vial," said Barket.

"You can't rely on that kind of evidence to convict a man of murder," he continued.

In the end, after deliberating 12 hours, Judge Richard Mott reached his verdict: not guilty.

Cal Harris is now a free man.

Cal Harris reacts following verdict in his fourth trial fro the murder of his wife? fouth trial

Cal Harris is overcome with emotion as he addresses reporters outside Schoharie County Court after being found not guilty of murder on Tuesday, May 24, 2016.

AP

"I was shocked. I was truly shocked," Harris told reporters.

"That's all I kept fighting for - my four kids," he said."

But while this verdict ends his legal ordeal, it does nothing to solve the mystery of Michele Harris' disappearance.

"I still miss her every day," Shannon Taylor said in tears.

"She's not coming back," Greg Taylor said. "So it's not ever gonna be over, you know, for us, for the family."

  • Erin Moriarty

    Correspondent, "48 Hours"