Jean Harris, who last week sought out the press to complain about a bit of police testimony, today once again approached reporters and -- as her lawyer looked on with concern -- angrily attacked the prosecution.
Her complaints, which came during a break in her murder trail, were apparently prompted by the admission of a prosecution witness that the defense team had not been fully informed of all ballistics evidence acquired by police at the scene. During the subsequent lengthy recess in the trial, Harris, who lately has been looking worn and tired despite the always-perfect clothing and the meticulously styled hair, approached reporters.
"Do you realize how many times we have had to stop the trial and get information we should have had in the first place?" she told the surprised group, her voice level but intense, tapping a reporter on the knee to get her attention. "You know what's going on . . . I wish the press would tell the public what's going on. . . ."
Her accusations then turned to the morning's testimony by Henri Van der Vreken, the servant of the late Dr. Herman Tarnower, creator of the Scarsdale Diet. Harris is accused of murdering Tarnower in his bedroom last March.
"What did you think of Henri this morning? Did you believe what he was saying"? she continued, her own disbelief evident in her speech.
"I think he was a bit hostile," volunteered a reporter finally.
"That's not the word," said Harris, turning on her heel and walking away.
The former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Va., Harris is charged with second-degree murder in the March 10 shooting death of Tarnower, her lover, in Harrson, N.Y. The prosecution, noting that the doctor was seeing another woamn, has said that Harris shot Tarnower five times in a jealous rage, wounding him four times -- in the chest, arm, hand and back. The defense has maintained that Tarnower was shot accidentally in a struggle and that Harris had driven to New York from Virginia to commit suicide.
Essential to that defense position will be forensic and ballistics evidence.But today, as one expert in the field, prosecution witness Vincent Crispino, of the Westchester County Forensic Science Laboratory, took the stand, the little information he gave did not portend well for the defense.
Under diret examination by Assistant District Attorney George Bolen, who held before the jury the bloodstained pajamas Tarnower had worn the night he was shot, Crispino identified for the jury three bullet holes: one in the chest, one at the back of the shoulder and one in the arm. He also testified that "gunshot residue" was present in the bullet hole in the back. This was an important finding, suggesting that Tarnower was indeed shot in the back and that his back wound was not an exit wound.
Later in the day, Crispino also told the jury of the attempts his office had made to gather information about the angles from which certain bullets had been shot -- information which, again, is central to both sides. But court proceedings were interrupted -- prompting Harris' complaints to the press -- when it was learned that a number of Crispino's findings had been turned over only to the prosecution, and not, as the law required, made available to the defense as well.
The resulting recess lasted nearly an hour -- typical of the pace of the day.
In the morning, defense attorney Joel Aurnou finished his cross examination of prosecution witness Van der Vreken, who remained stubborn and forgetful. Under prodding from Aurnou, Van der Vreken said he could not remember whether he had taken any calls from Harris the day Tarnower was shot or any details about Harris' activities in the bedroom where the doctor lay dying. (Earlier in the trial Van der Vreken's wife, Suzanne, had testified that Harris had touched the doctor's head with her finger and said, "Oh, hi, why didn't you kill me?")
Many of the day's activities occurred outside of the presence of the jury.
At noon, Judge Russell R. Leggett announced that the state court of appeals had ruled that the hotly contested "Scarsdale Letter" would finally be turned over to the judge and that he would shortly rule on whether it would be admissiable as evidence. Harris had written the letter to Tarnower the day he was shot, and it had been retrieved from the post office by Harris' defense team. The defense has fought its release, saying that would violate Harris' constitutional rights.
Judge Leggett also announced that, in a response to a motion from the prosecution, he was forbidding the lawyers in the case to speak with the press. That move, some observers felt, had been prompted by a story about an emotional meeting between Jean Harris and her younger rival, Lynne Tryforos, at Tarnower's grave -- a story many reporters thought had come from Harris' lawyer. A tabloid favorite in a trial that has been dominating the tabloid press, the story made the front page of the New York Post: "Jean Harris Trail Sensation: Love rivals MET AT DOC'S GRAVE."
The judge, in announcing his gag ruling, did not point the finger.
"I don't want a press conference held by attorneys" he said.