Monday, March 10, 2008

Clara Harris's Cinderella Complex

by Kathryn Casey

The truth? I feel sorry for Clara Harris.

In my opinion, she suffers from the classic Cinderella Complex, believing both her dead husband, David, and her defense attorney, Houston heavyweight George Parnham, were Princes Charming. When they turned out to be just regular folks who didn’t always live up to her expectations, she couldn’t handle it. In the first case she committed a sensational murder. The second time around, she got mad and sued, a drama that ended two weeks ago in a civil court.

Harris, of course, is the dentist/convicted murderer in Texas’s sensational Murder-by-Mercedes case. For those of you unfamiliar with the details, in July 2002, Clara caught David cheating. He promised the affair was over, but alas – I know we’re all shocked – he lied. Harris hired a PI who tracked David to a hotel where he had a liaison with his lover

. The Harrises argued, Clara left but then, in the hotel parking lot, gunned the engine and ran over the philanderer not once but three times.

Ironically, the entire episode was caught on tape by the private detective, and the video became a key piece of evidence at her trial, played and replayed for the jury. I have no qualms about the jurors' decision to find Harris guilty. She murdered her husband, plain and simple. Sure it was a crime of passion, but that doesn’t excuse it.

So, why do I feel sorry for her? First, I’m not sure she deserved twenty years. I wrote a book about a cop who stalked and murdered a woman who got less time than Harris, who obviously snapped. But the main reason is that our Clara is apparently one of those women who assumes rather than take care of herself, someone else will save her. First, she labored under the fairy tale illusion that she could kiss her frog husband and turn him into a prince.

It’s true that the Harrises lived a lush lifestyle including not just the Benz but a McMansion and thriving dental practice. Yet rather than haul David into a divorce court, where his cheating ways could pay off in a lucrative settlement, Clara tried to lure him back. Not surprisingly, it didn’t work. Sure he had a wife and two young sons, but that didn’t make David Harris a good guy. Any man who draws up a chart for his wife comparing her attributes to his mistress’s, including breast size, lacks more than charm.

Then Harris did it again. She miscalculated her relationship with her attorney, Parnham. It just makes me want to shake my head and ask, “Okay Clara, but what were you thinking?”

After her conviction, Harris filed a civil suit against Parnham, charging that he gave her a shoddy defense and gouged her financially. It’s that lawsuit that just finished playing out in a Houston courtroom.

At issue was a $300,000 promissory note Clara signed four days after the jurors sentenced her. That was in addition to the $235,000 she’d already paid him. Harris says she so trusted Parnham, who she claims said he loved her and thought of her as a daughter, that she never read the paperwork. Parnham’s wife, Mary, Clara insists, described the paperwork as a way for her to “preserve her estate.”

Okay. So here’s the picture. You’re a well-educated, bright woman in jail who is about to be sent away to prison for 20 years, and your lawyer’s wife asks you to sign a $300,000 note. And you do it, without reading it? Is this woman insane?

For his part, Parnham contended that Harris got everything she paid for and more. In fact, he filed a counter suit claiming he was entitled to repayment for a $90,000 loan he took out to pay experts and consultants involved in Clara’s trial.

The he-said-she-said made for great courthouse drama. And the stakes were high. More so than money, on Parnham’s part, it was his reputation. So, who did the jurors believe?

Well, Clara has yet to find her happy ever after. Jurors returned on February 29th with a verdict for the defense. They awarded Parnham $70,250 for his expenses from the murder trial and $389,443 to pay his own attorney. Sigh. Of course, that’s in addition to the $3.75 million Clara was ordered to pay her former in-laws last year in a separate civil suit. I can only imagine poor Clara’s sadness as she takes the Texas Department of Criminal Justice van back to prison.

So what’s the moral of this fable? Run over your cheating husband with the family Benz and you’re likely to not only spend a couple of decades in prison but when you get out? Well, learn a craft while you’re behind bars. In Clara’s case, I’m not sure she’ll have dental patients lining up, and chances are she’ll need a job.


Anonymous said...

Loved the story on Clara Harris. I followed it during her original trial and did not feel she should have gotten 20 years, 10 maybe. Was glad to get an update on her. Thanks for the information.
SV Houston Texas

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks for checking in and happy you enjoyed the post! Come back often.

Anonymous said...

This was a tough one for me insofar as how much time Clara should have received. Many women sympathized with her I'm sure. Also, she was the poster-gal for "snapped" to run over the cheating hub not once but 3 times. I think 10 to 15 would suffice. At least she didn't harm the other woman. That would have been much worse for her.

I'm looking forward to visiting here daily!Congrats on the site.

Anonymous said...

This also was a tough one for me as I could understand how she snapped. Thank you so much for putting this on. I know she was guilty but I would not have given her 20 years. There are some that get off with MUCH Less. Is that fair? I think the tape was the deciding factor. If all murders were on tape so many would not be out walking the streets. I will back often, and thank you.

Kathryn Casey said...

I agree with all of you. I thought, under the circumstances, that it would have been less. It's hard not to have some sympathy for her. Plus, she obviously didn't plan it. Who'd bring a step-daughter along to watch her father be murdered. I remember Harris said she felt like she was in a fog. Probably overcome with anger. Doesn't excuse it, but it does raise question premeditation.

I'm glad y'all are enjoying the blog, and we'd be delighted to have you often!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your article on Clara. I covered the latest civil case and there is one point you left out of your article. Clara was on suicide watch in the Harris County Psych ward when she was asked to sign the promissory note so I can understand why she did not read it. I thought it was a curious time to have her sign such a document since Mr. Parnham did not have a written contract with her?

Kathryn Casey said...

I don't know enough about this case to say why Clara was on suicide watch, so maybe this is wrong, but I do know that it's not
unusual when folks have just been given a long sentence to keep them segregated and under this type of surveillance for a period of time.

In fact, often, when they're initially brought in on a murder charge, even before the trial, they're held on suicide watch.

So that fact didn't strike me as very telling.

But, as I said, I didn't write the book on this one, so I'm not one to have all the answers. That said, I do think Clara has a "please save me" attitude that doesn't serve her well.

Donna Weaver said...

Great piece, Kathryn! I suppose the fact that Clara hired the PI who filmed the murder helped make the point she was under severe emotional stress as oppossed to premeditation. I can tell you from experience that surveillence video is generally one of the most boring parts of the job. That must have been one surprised PI!

Kathryn Casey said...

Thanks, Donna. Yes, it does. Clara certainly had reason to be stressed out, two young sons and a callous, unfaithful husband. Yet, my impression is that she didn't plan to react as she did that day.

I always thought the surveillence thing would be exciting, although the times I've staked out a place waiting for someone I want to interview to pop up, it hs been pretty boring. Is it like on TV, where you drink mega cups of coffee and nearly fall asleep only to stir awake just as the bad guy shows up? LOL

You know, I think I'll e-mail Steve Long, who wrote the book on this case, and see if he'd like to weigh in....

Steven Long said...

I have no doubt that Dr. Clara Harris didn't plan to kill her husband David the day he hellishly died under the six inch clearance of an S Class Mercedes in a Texas parking lot.

That said, Clara was found guilty of murder by a jury of her peers. She recieved a 20 year sentence and has subsequently lost just about everything else she owned in addition to her freedom.

Anybody who has read my book will know that I am sympathetic to her plight. I believe 20 years is incredibly harsh for an upstanding citizen who briefly lost control after being driven to the brink by a terrible husband.

From what I hear, Dr. Harris is doing good works in prison. I have no doubt she will continue to do so when she is released, albeit in the distant future when her children are approaching manhood.

Steven Long, Author
Out of Control
St. Martin's Press

Kathryn Casey said...

Hey Steven,

Thanks for checking in. Isn't Clara typing books into brail in Gatesville prison? I think she works with Celeste Beard, who also murdered her husband, the case told in my book SHE WANTED IT ALL. Last I heard, they were good buddies.

Jan C said...

Holy Cow. I can't imagine Celeste being a good influence on anyone. Although I guess you can't always pick your friends in prison. Or rather, the selection is rather limited.
Sentencing variations have always been a concern of mine. Why isn't there some type of standardization? It almost seems like judges have an undue amount of discretion. Granted, they have listened to the entire case, both pro & defense, but still. What if the judge has had a bad day. Someone took his parking spot, his wife/husband wasn't in the mood that morning, his teenager got kicked out of school, he/she wore that one pair of underwear that always rides up...and if all those things happened on the same day, well. What may be lenient to one judge, might be harsh to another. It just seems that there should be a better way.

Kathryn Casey said...

You're right, Jan. In Texas, it's even odder, because the juries sentence, so they're all over the place. Really strange. I do believe Clara deserved to do some time, but I do have a problem with twenty years.

Glad you're here. Come often!