Five days after her 73rd birthday, Colleen Ann Harris took to the witness stand Thursday to speak about her awful moment of recognition – in pitch darkness – that her third husband was dead from a shotgun blast.
In lurid testimony, Harris gave her account of the death of Robert Edward “Bob” Harris, 72, a retired U.S. Forest Service supervisor who was shot and killed in their marital bed in January 2013.
Acquitted in 1986 of killing a previous husband with another shotgun, Colleen Harris faces a charge that she killed Bob Harris in a premeditated murder.
Though she said that her memory of his death was “a fog,” Colleen testified that she definitely wasn’t holding the gun.
She said Bob had lashed out at her for texting his daughter about a phone conversation he had with his 34-year-old paramour in Mongolia. Colleen said she later went into their darkened bedroom to console her husband, to make up, to rub his neck.
She said her hand ran into the barrel of a shotgun he was holding.
“I said, ‘Bob, what are you doing? Why do have this gun with you,’” Colleen testified Thursday. “I thought he was going to kill himself. Is he going to kill me?”
Dressed in a ruffled magenta blouse and a black skirt with her grayish brown hair in a ponytail, the petite Colleen Harris testified that her husband cursed her and pushed her away.
She said she felt a blow to her chest and thought it was the butt of the gun. She said she grappled for the weapon, then ran out.
She never said anything about hearing a shot.
She said she went back in to see her husband again. She reached over to him on the bed. “I said, ‘Bob,are you okay?’ It was really quiet.” She said she saw blood on the pillow and “thought he was having a nose bleed.”
She let out a loud sob when she continued her story to its conclusion: “I turned on the light,” she said, “and, oh God, I saw the most horrible thing I’ve ever een in my life. I said, ‘No, please! This can’t be!’”
Prosecutors say Colleen Harris killed Bob Harris, a longtime baseball umpire, sheriff’s volunteer and international conservationist, in a fury over the extramarital affair he had with the woman he met doing lake preservation work in Mongolia.
A prosecution forensic expert testified earlier in the trial that Bob Harris was killed by someone firing a shotgun from just above his left ear. They said his wound, blasting out his face, was inconsistent with suicide.
Colleen Harris’ hours of testimony revealed a life marked by violence and tragedy.
Thursday morning, put on the stand by defense attorney David Weiner, she spoke at length about all three of her husbands. She said she merely aimed a shotgun once at the first one. The other two died in horrid blasts, starting with James Batten in July, 1985.
Colleen testified of Batten’s rage that day after she handed him a letter outlining plans to divide property in a pending divorce. She said he returned to the bedroom, threw down the letter and screamed, “There isn’t going to be a divorce. I’ll kill you first.”
She told of him next pinning her to the bed with his knee in her chest. She described how he put a pistol to her head and forced her to perform a sex act. She told of him bragging of sexually abusing her daughter for years.
And then she told of the sound of his pistol clicking – and thinking she was dead.
But it was James Batten who died, shot twice with a shotgun.
Harris, who was acquitted after her attorney argued she was subjected to physical abuse and acted out of self-defense, said she still had no recollection today of squeezing a trigger. She just remembered winding up in another house on her property “in a daze,” asking herself what was happening.
She said the phone rang. It was a concerned call from her father.
“I remember him saying, ‘What’s wrong with you? What’s happening?’” Colleen testified. “I said, ‘Something’s wrong: Jim’s on the floor and he’s bleeding.’”
On Thursday, Harris said she no longer remembered even testifying in the earlier trial.
But she recounted how she had made one concerted change in her home environment after James Batten’s killing: She got all the guns out of the house “because I didn’t want any guns around – ever.”
She testified on Thursday that Bob Harris found a new shotgun, still in its box, among belongings that her father was storing in a barn on their property on Wilderness Court in Placerville.
She said Bob told her before one of his trips to Mongolia – before she learned of his affair – that she should keep it for protection while he was gone.
“He said, ‘I just want to make sure you’re safe. You need to have that,’” Colleen testified.
On Jan. 6, 2013, Bob Harris was found dead, killed by that shotgun.
Colleen Harris is due to retake the witness stand on Tuesday for cross-examination by the prosecution.
Call The Bee’s Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.