HOUSTON - The receptionist whose affair with a Houston-area orthodontist led his wife into a deadly rage last July testified Tuesday at the spurned woman's murder trial that she believed their marriage was "open" to other romantic relationships.
Gail Bridges, who acknowledged having an affair with David Harris beginning last May, said she assumed Clara Harris knew she and David Harris were having a sexual relationship based on his statements to her.
"That's what I was told," Bridges said under questioning by defense attorney Emily Munoz.
Munoz asked Bridges, "You knew David Harris was married, father of twins, husband to Clara? And yet, despite everything you knew, you thought it was OK to date David?"
Bridges answered, "Yes. It was told to me by David that they had an open marriage."
Munoz told jurors that Bridges was the only person in the front office to get a bonus every month and received a raise shortly after she began dating David.
"Is it safe to say that as your relationship with David intensified, your salary increased?" Munoz asked.
"Yes," Bridges testified.
Clara Harris, accused of murder after she ran over and killed her husband July 24 in a suburban Houston hotel parking lot following a scuffle in the lobby with Bridges, averted her eyes from Bridges. Similarly, Bridges never appeared to glance in the defendant's direction.
Bridges, wearing all black, took jurors through the time she was hired at David Harris' orthodontic practice in August 2001, to a blossoming romance last April and finally a sexual rendezvous at the Westin Oaks Galleria hotel in Houston on May 4.
At a party later that month attended by both Harrises and Bridges, Bridges said she didn't tell Clara Harris about the relationship.
"I don't understand why I would," Bridges said, because the marriage was supposed to be open. But then she acknowledged to Munoz that she "did feel guilty."
David Harris admitted to the affair on July 17, and Clara Harris fired Bridges that day. When Clara Harris confronted her about the affair, Bridges said she should take it up with David Harris.
When Munoz asked Bridges if she blamed Clara Harris for being angry, she said, "No ma'am, I do not."
A week later, Clara Harris tracked down her husband and Bridges after, according to Bridges, the two spent time in a hotel room at the Nassau Bay Hilton after a romantic late lunch at a lake-view table.
Clara Harris and Bridges tussled in the lobby, and then Bridges returned to her sport utility vehicle in the parking lot, she said. She was standing inside her driver's side door when she said she saw Clara Harris churning through the parking lot in her Mercedes-Benz.
Bridges, fighting back tears but calmly fielding questions, said she did not see David Harris struck by his wife's car.
"Gail Bridges is severely traumatized and has been since the death of the man she loved. She has come in here with post-traumatic stress disorder. She is trying very desperately to do the right thing. She is also trying to protect her children," said Valerie Davenport, Bridge's attorney.
Defense attorney George Parnham has said it was an accident when Clara Harris fatally injured her 44-year-old husband with her Mercedes-Benz.
Prosecutor Mia Magness disagrees, saying Harris, 45, meant to kill her husband.
Earlier, the nanny who cares for the Harris' twin boys testified Clara Harris called her on the afternoon of July 24 with unusual orders: Pack a week's worth of David Harris' clothing in an old suitcase and throw away the rest of his wardrobe.
Maria Gonzalez, who smiled when she described the order, later denied smiling under cross-examination by Magness.
"I put them in the trash can," Gonzalez, through a translator, said, testifying she followed orders without questioning Clara Harris' reasoning.
She said she didn't detect anger in Clara Harris' mobile phone call, which came within an hour of David Harris' death.
Also Tuesday, pathologist Paul Radelat testified his review of autopsy records and more than 50 photographs indicates Harris was run over once, not two or more times as concluded by Dr. Dwayne Wolf of the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office.
However, Magness blistered Radelat on cross-examination, noting his 40 years of expertise primarily was not in forensic pathology, the study of deaths by unnatural means.
Radelat relented that the number of times David Harris was struck "was an area where reasonable minds can disagree."
If convicted, Harris could face up to life in prison. But if jurors decide she acted as a result of sudden passion, she could get between two to 20 years behind bars or probation.
Sudden passion is legally defined as the following:
- Accused was provoked by the victim
- Crime happened at the time of the offense
- Provocation made an ordinary person so enraged that he or she was incapable of cool reflection
- February 4, 2003: Defense Goes After Victim In Clara Harris Case
- January 31, 2003: Collision Expert Testifies About Harris' Death
- January 30, 2003: Accusations Fly After Harris Daughter Testifies
- January 30, 2003: State Rests In Clara Harris Case
- January 29, 2003: Harris' Daughter Testifies: 'She Meant To Kill Him'
- January 29, 2003: Stepdaughter To Testify In Clara Harris' Trial
- January 28, 2003: Harris Cries Uncontrollably, Removed From Trial
- January 27, 2003: Private Investigator Testifies In Clara Harris Trial
- January 27, 2003: Clara Harris Trial Enters Second Week
- January 23, 2003: Witnesses Describe Harris Running Over Husband
- January 22, 2003: Jury Seated In Clara Harris Trial
- January 22, 2003: Jury Selection Continues In Harris' Murder Trial
- January 21, 2003: Jurors To Be Picked For Clara Harris' Trial
- January 16, 2003: Harris' Stepdaughter's Remarks Spark Debate
- November 19, 2002: Audiotapes Allege Clara Harris Also Having Affair
- November 1, 2002: Harris Featured In Magazine Article
- October 18, 2002: Clara Harris Pleads Not Guilty
- October 10, 2002: Grand Jury Indicts Clara Harris
- September 18, 2002: Custody Battle Stems From High-Profile Murder
- August 23, 2002: Clara Harris' Murder Trial Set
- August 2, 2002: Slain Orthodontist's Daughter Files Suit
- July 31, 2002: P.I. Turns Over Video Of Dentist's Death
- July 29, 2002: Judge: Dentist To Remain Free
- July 26, 2002: Wife Free After Allegedly Running Over Husband
- July 25, 2002: Police: Wife Runs Over Cheating Husband
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