Lindsey's Loss

The wild ride of the teen who became a front-seat witness to her father's killing

"I'm going to hit him," Lindsey later quoted Clara as saying when she aimed the car at her husband. "She said it like that was going to happen."

"No!" screamed Lindsey.

"She stepped on the accelerator and went straight for him," the girl remembered.

Attorney John Davis joins his client, Lindsey, and her stepfather at a public address about the case.
Courtesy of Steven Long
Attorney John Davis joins his client, Lindsey, and her stepfather at a public address about the case.
Clara Harris stands by as her attorney George Parnham addresses the media.
Courtesy of Steven Long
Clara Harris stands by as her attorney George Parnham addresses the media.

Lindsey looked into the eyes of her father as the Mercedes came barreling toward him.

"He was really scared because he was trying to get away and couldn't," she said.

David's hand reached for the front of the hood, leaving his last living fingerprints there, as if by will alone he could stop the machine. "Clara had no expression on her face," Lindsey said, describing how the woman circled around and ran over him again -- some would claim as many as five times.

When the Mercedes rolled to a stop, Lindsey opened the door so that she could help her dad. But first, she said, "I went around and hit her."

Clara ran to the body of her husband lying on the ground next to a curb. Lindsey remembered bitterly what she saw next.

"She kneeled down and said, 'I'm sorry, so sorry, I am so sorry. It was an accident,' " she recalled. "She wasn't sorry, she had killed him!" Lindsey said. After crying uncontrollably, Lindsey recognized another woman coming out of the Hilton.

"Gail, Gail," she called out to her father's paramour. Gail hid her head, frightened that she would be hit again.

"Gail, I'm not going to hurt you," the young girl said. "She killed my dad. Clara killed my dad."

The two erupted, their emotions overcoming them, filling them with their newfound grief for the man they loved.

Later that night, the Harris mansion filled with people stunned by the sudden death of David Harris broadcast on the ten o'clock news.

"They were sad, but they didn't act like Clara had done what she did," Lindsey said, convulsing with grief. "I knew that she was killing him. I knew that he wasn't going to be okay…It was a terrible way for a person to go."

Anger filled her as she thought of what she had witnessed when the car had stopped: Clara "got out and she went over to him and called him 'baby' as if nothing had happened."

Lindsey wanted to be alone, but before going upstairs to the room that had been specially built for her, she went back to the garage. She lifted the old suitcase -- the one set out earlier with her father's clothes -- and carried it up the stairs of the mansion.

"I felt he was there with me," she said.

The effect of what Lindsey Harris witnessed was profound. When the 16-year-old returned to Ohio, she was not the same girl who had loved to play the violin. She was no longer interested in such silly and trivial school activities as cheerleading. And Lindsey Harris gave up the dream of joining her father in the practice of orthodontics.

Lindsey Harris had matured into a beautiful yet troubled young woman; her almond-shaped face, surrounded by her long, straight dark hair, expressed her sadness. She had grown up overnight in the Hilton parking lot.

Lindsey's loss of interest in music and cheerleading compounded another loss. Now, her school grades plummeted.

Lindsey Harris chose not to simply live through the next months. She decided instead to slice her wrists, thinking two suicide attempts were an agreeable option to living with her memories.

Meanwhile, her mother, Debra Shank, filed a lawsuit in Galveston federal court on Lindsey's behalf. Defendants included Clara Harris, her half-brothers, several companies controlled by the dentistry couple, and finally, the estate of David L. Harris, deceased.

Shank was suing to protect the interests of Lindsey and her two half-brothers (Clara and David's twins) in their father's estate. The suit aimed to prevent the children's inheritance from being gobbled up by legal bills generated by Clara Harris's defense against the charge of murder.

David had named Clara as his sole heir. Under Texas law, she could not benefit financially from killing her husband. Upon conviction, she would lose everything, and all of the property would go to Lindsey and her half-brothers.

Shank contended that Clara was already attempting to squander cash that rightfully belonged to the children. What she had been doing was paying for the services of one of Houston's more colorful criminal defense attorneys, George Parnham. His image as a gentle, professorial everyman had been invaluable in his defense of Andrea Yates for drowning her five children.

In the case of Clara Harris, her stepdaughter would be the worst nightmare for the defense. What she said on the stand could put Clara in prison for life, and this was one witness Parnham couldn't risk destroying upon cross-examination, for fear of angering the jury. Lindsey was likable. She was credible, and she was the eyewitness who could, with certainty, come closest to describing Clara Harris's actions and motive.

Throughout the case, Parnham had attempted to speak with Lindsey Harris, to no avail. Her lawyers fiercely protected the fragile young woman, who had already attempted suicide. Assistant District Attorney Mia Magness protected her star eyewitness as well.

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