Harris' attorney wants change of venue from Tioga County
An attorney for Calvin Harris said intense media coverage has made it impossible to find an impartial jury in Tioga County for his client's second murder trial.Specifically, Terence Kindlon cited remarks posted on the Press & Sun-Bulletin's various online comment pages.
Kindlon also submitted numerous newspaper stories to have the trial moved to another New York county.
A 47-year-old Tioga County businessman, Harris was convicted of the murder of his estranged wife, Michele, in June 2007. However, the trial judge set aside the verdict when testimony from a man, who did not come forward until after the verdict, contradicted a prosecutor's theory of what happened. A second trial has been set for Feb. 17.
In court documents filed Nov. 21 with a state appellate court in Albany, Kindlon asked for a change of venue, something the appeals court hasn't granted to local courts in 41 years.
The centerpiece of the argument is media coverage of the 7-year-old case which Kindlon said has slanted public opinion against Harris.
"The community continues to closely follow all media reports regarding the case, and it will be near impossible to find a single resident of Tioga County or any of the surrounding counties who have not heard about the case, nor formed a vehement resentment towards Calvin Harris due to the last seven years of highly inflammatory media coverage," said Kindlon, of the Albany law firm of Kindlon Shanks & Associates.
Among the reader comments, which are allowed to be posted anonymously, on the newspaper's message boards cited by the attorney was an Oct. 23 entry that read: "Maybe (Calvin Harris) thinks all this attention on him murdering his wife is a small price to pay for killing her. He is an animal ... a greedy animal."
Kindlon, one of two attorneys representing Harris, also cites reader comments made about Kevin Tubbs, the Candor farmer who in post-trial testimony said he saw Michele Harris with an unidentified man hours after the prosecution said she had been killed.
"Do you think that maybe Cal's attorney wants to save Cal some of the precious money that Cal was unwilling to let Michele have as a settlement ... I still think Tubbs had a payoff ..." read another Oct. 23 posting cited in the appeal.
Another submission read: "Dear Cal fan: Let me be a little clearer for the lower mentaility [sic] of mankind. Wether [sic] he is convicted of murder or not, he has been a discrace [sic] to his family, his children, his community. Murderer or not, he will be judged one day when he meets his maker. Is that a little better, understand now?"
Additionally, Kindlon submitted to the appeals court some Press & Sun-Bulletin stories written over seven years about the Harris case. He also cited other newspapers and television coverage, in particular the CBS Network program, "48 Hours Mystery" which featured the Harris case, as also tainting the local jury pool against Harris. The CBS feature aired Nov. 3, 2007, and again, this year, on June 24.
Neither Michele Harris' body, nor a murder weapon, have ever been found.
Kindlon cited other New York cases where a trial was moved because of adverse pre-trial publicity. Included was Kathy Boudin, a member of the radical group the Weather Underground who was convicted in 1984 of murder for her participation in an armed robbery that left three people dead.
Boudin's trial was moved from Rockland to Orange County, and then moved again to Westchester County after attorneys could not pick a jury, Kindlon said.
In 1967, the murder trial of a Binghamton man accused of killing a high school classmate was moved from Broome to Chemung County because of pre-trial publicity. The defendant in that case pleaded guilty to the slaying during jury selection.By Nancy Dooling Staff Writer December 1, 2008
Copyright © 2008 Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin