Prompted by the discovery that he had not seen large numbers of photographic negatives taken at the crime scene, defense attorney Joe Aurnou today asked Judge Russell R. Leggett to declare a mistrial in the Jean Harris murder trial.
The request was denied. But noting the amount of time required for the defense to examine the negatives, the judge granted a recess until Jan. 5. He also ordered that all negatives be turned over to the defense team.
Aurnou's request came after his questioning of Westchester County photographer W. Reid Lindsay, who took pictures of the crime scene and the autopsy of Dr. Herman Tarnower, the creator of the Scarsdale diet, who was shot to death March 10 in his New York home.
During examination, Lindsay explained that he had not made a photograph from every negative.
"I want to renew my motion for a mistrial," said Aurnou, who made a pro forma motion for a mistrial earlier. "I did not see certain exhibits . . . Today, I discovered 206 negatives, only a small portion of which I have, only a small portion of which were ever made. Though I concede Mr. Bolen [George Bolen, the assistant district attorney] has no knowledge of most of their contents, they contain the only accessible source of physical information to the defense."
Although Leggett promptly denied the motion, he did rule that since a crime scene "cannot be duplicated," and a single photograph may contain critical information, all photographs and negatives must be turned over to the defense.
Former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Va., Harris has been on trial for more than a month, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of her lover Tarnower in his bedroom. The prosecution has claimed Harris shot Tarnower in a jealous rage, surprising him in his darkened bedroom; the defense has called the shooting an accident.
That Tarnower may have been surprised in his bedroom has been indicated in testimony from the prosecution witnesses, who have testified that the doctor retired early the evening he was shot and shut off the lights in his home -- apparently not expecting guests.
But it is important to the defense to prove that the doctor was aware of Harris in his bedroom during whatever confrontation occurred and could see clearly what was going on. That defense argument has been hurt by the fact that the doctor's eyeglasses were found in his bedside stand after the shooting, an indication that he was not wearing them when he was shot and may not have been able to see what was going on.
Today, in an attempt to offset that position, the defense called to the stand an opthalmologist, Dr. Gene Matuson, who testified that even without his glasses Tarnower could distinguish objects at a distance of up to 20 feet "in normal light."
But the credibility of the witness was challenged when prosecutor Bolen began cross-examination.
"Your wife's name is Naomi . . . . She is a lawyer . . . . She is a recent graduate of Pace Law School . . . ," Bolen began, as the witness agreed.
"And most recently she is an associate with Mr. Aurnou's office?" asked Bolen.
The witness acknowledged this was so.
"No more questions," Bolen said.