As diet doctor Herman Tarnower lay dying in the bedroom of his home, Jean Harris, the woman accused of shooting him, leaned over the doctor, touched his face and spoke to him, according to testimony today from Tarnower's housekeeper.
"She said, 'Hey, why didn't you kill me?"' said Suzanne Van Der Vreken, as Harris, hands clasped tightly beneath her chin, stared at her intently.
"And the next thing anyone said?" asked defense attorney Joel Arnou.
"I said, 'Oh, c'mon, Mrs. Harris,'" said Van Der Vreken, in a tone that clearly implied a lack of sympathy. That tone was echoed later, when Van Der Vreken spoke of Harris, after phoning a lawyer, stopping to examine her face in a mirror.
"She said, 'Oh, my God, he hit me,'" said Van Der Vreken, under cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Joe Bolen.
And Van Der Vreken's response? asked Bolen.
"I was surprised," said the housekeeper.
The housekeeper's testimony, in the Weschester County courthouse here, came in pretrial hearings to determine the admissibility of statements allegedly made by Harris last March 10, the night the doctor was killed. The judge must also decide whether the alleged murder weapon, a .32-caliber pistol recovered from the front seat of Harris' car, can be used as evidence at the second-degree murder trial, official jury selection for which is scheduled to begin next Monday.
The last witness to appear at those hearings, Van Der Vreken testified only about the period during which she saw Harris in the house in the company of the police, not about events in the house at the time of the shooting. For the most part, she confirmed testimony given earlier by police.
She recalled a police officer informing Harris of her rights immediately after Harris told officers she had shot the doctor, a point that will be critical to the outcome of this hearing. She said that the police officer, in asking "who did it?" before telling Harris her rights, did not speak to Harris specifically but addressed his question to "everyone."
Van Der Vreken also testified about the murder weapon, another point which is critical to this hearing, the defense having attempted to prove that the police acted improperly in retrieving the gun from the car. (The defense contends that the police searched the car before there was cause).
Under cross-examination from Bolen, Van Der Vreken said she had heard only the word "gun" as the police spoke with Harris. But upon looking at an unidentified piece of paper, presumably a police report, to "refresh" her memory, the Belgian-born house-keeper, who prefers to be called a "house manager," augmented her story.
"She said, 'The gun is in my car,'" the witness said.
Throughout the proceeding the defendant remained impassive, at times staring intently at the witness, at times staring off into the distance as if somewhere else.