January 22, 2015 / 9:43 PM / 3 years ago

New York man facing third trial for murder in wife's disappearance

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Jury selection began on Thursday for a wealthy New York father of four being tried for a third time for the suspected murder of his estranged wife, who disappeared with little trace more than a decade ago.

Two separate juries have found Cal Harris, a 53-year-old businessman from Tioga County in western New York, guilty of second-degree murder his wife, Michele, in 2001, but both verdicts were later thrown out.

Prosecutors in the previous trials have argued that Harris killed his wife because he was embittered by her filing for divorce, shortly before she went missing, and that he worried about the financial impact of a split.

Jury selection for the third trial began on Thursday at the Schoharie County Court, spokesman Christian Spies said. Neither prosecutors nor Harris’ attorneys immediately returned calls for comment.

Michele Harris was 35 years old when she went missing sometime between the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, and early the next morning, when her van was found empty at the end of her driveway. Her body was never recovered and a murder weapon never found.

Harris was arrested in 2005 and convicted of second-degree murder two years later. But before sentencing, a neighbor of the Harris family testified that he saw someone who looked like Michele arguing with a strange young man at the end of her driveway on the day she vanished. A second neighborhood corroborated the statement and the verdict was thrown out.

Harris was convicted again in 2009 but an appeals court threw out the verdict partially because a juror said he had entered the trial with the opinion that was Harris was guilty, local media reported at the time.

Harris, who has maintained his innocence, has remained free on bond.

Reporting by Laila Kearney; Editing by Bill Trott

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