Woman receives 20 years for running over husband

HOUSTON -- A jury sentenced Clara Harris to 20 years in prison Friday -- her 11th wedding anniversary -- for mowing down her cheating husband with her Mercedes-Benz after catching him with his lover.

The 45-year-old dentist, who could have received a life sentence, drew a lesser penalty after jurors decided she was driven by "sudden passion" to run over David Harris repeatedly in a suburban Houston hotel parking lot July 24. She will be eligible for parole after serving 10 years.

Harris sobbed, burying her face in her hands, then collapsed into the lap of one of her attorneys after the sentence was read. Her attorneys gathered around her to comfort her as she wept.

Harris was convicted Thursday of murdering her orthodontist husband after finding him with his mistress and former receptionist last July at the same hotel where the Harrises wed on Valentine's Day 1992.

Harris' lawyer George Parnham had requested probation, saying the Harrises' twin 4-year-old sons need his client.

Parnham said Harris was "devastated" by the sentence. "You've got a mother that has just not only lost her husband, albeit by her own hand, but two baby boys that are expecting Mom to come home tonight," he said.

Prosecutor Mia Magness said the jury "recognized the case for what it was, and that was the senseless taking of a human life."

Magness said Harris was using her sons as a "shield" to gain probation. She had urged prison time but made no specific recommendation about the length of a sentence.

"She ought not get credit for making herself a single parent," the prosecutor told jurors. "She did that when she made the choice to kill their dad."

Jurors deliberated for six hours before returning with their sentence.

It also included a $10,000 fine. The same jury deliberated about eight hours before returning the murder conviction.

In closing arguments Friday, Parnham said it was "poetic irony" that jurors were deciding Harris' fate on Valentine's Day, and suggested that David Harris would have wanted them to show leniency.

"Today would have been their 11th wedding anniversary," he said. "What I want you to think about is what, based on all of the evidence in this case, what would David want?"

David Harris' father, mother and brother had testified in favor of probation.

"We feel like a member of our family has erred and we forgive that," his father, Gerald Harris said Thursday. "We don't feel like Clara intended to kill David."

Magness invoked the feelings of another relative: David Harris' 17-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Lindsey Harris, who was in the passenger seat of the Mercedes when Clara Harris killed him.

Lindsey Harris testified she struggled to get out of the car and yelled for her stepmother to stop as she felt the car bump over her father's body.

"I only got to spend 16 1/2 years with him and I had so much more planned," Lindsey Harris testified Thursday. "It's not fair for someone to take my dad away from me."

Tears welled in Magness' eyes and her voice quavered as she described how Lindsey Harris retrieved her father's clothes from a trash can where her stepmother instructed they be thrown, then took the clothing into her bedroom to "feel like he was there with me."

"Her life is forever changed, and she didn't even get to say goodbye," Magness said.

Lindsey Harris now lives with her mother and stepfather in Ohio, and sat with them -- opposite from Clara Harris' supporters -- as the sentence was read.

Her stepfather, Jim Shank, said he was pleased with the sentence.

"There are no winners in a situation such as this," he said. "The ones that have lost the most are the children."