Pale, drawn and visibly exhausted, Jean Harris finished eight days on the witness stand today, sticking to her story that she "never intended to harm" Dr. Herman Tarnower, the man she is accused of murdering.
She also repeated her claim that she had "no memory" of two of the five shots fired from her gun that night.
"I only remember three shots," she told her defense attorney, Joel Aurnou.
"Shooting Hi in the hand [when she says he tried to prevent her from committing suicide]; the shot I thought I was shooting to my stomach, that I must have ended up in Hi's arm; the shot that ended up in the headboard . . . I didn't believe you when you told me at first Hi had been shot anywhere but the hand . . . I had no knowledge of that many shots . . . "
Harris, former headmistress of the Madeira School in McLean, Va., has been charged with second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Scarsdale Diet author Tarnower in the bedroom of his Westchester, N.Y., home last March.
From the beginning, her lawyers have maintained that the shooting was not intentional, but a suicide attempt gone awry. Tarnower was, they maintain, shot in a struggle for the gun.
Today, in a final round of questions from her attorney after a grueling cross-examination by the prosecutor, the defense team tried to support its claim. It also tried to undo some of the damage done by the admission into evidence Wednesday of the "Scarsdale Letter," an anguished letter from Harris that showed her hatred for both her lover and Lynne Tryforos, the younger woman who was her rival for Tarnower's love.
"The prosecutor yesterday said, 'Mrs. Harris, isn't it true you planned to kill Dr. Tarnower and then commit suicide?'" thundered defense lawyer Aurnou, in a theatrical parody of the prosecutor that seemed to embarrass everyone -- including the witness. "How could you have killed Dr. Tarnower by first putting a muzzle to your head?"
"I couldn't have . . . it's an irrelevant question because I wouldn't have killed him anyway, 14 years of my life bore testimony to that," said Harris, her voice quavering.
The defense lawyer turned the line of questioning to statements Harris had made in the Scarsdale Letter, which she had mailed her lover the day she shot him.
"You said you would rather be saved the trail of living without Herman Tarnower than have the option of living with his money, was that true?"
"Yes, it was," said Harris.
"When you said, 'I couldn't have sold that ring . . . it was tangible proof of your love and it meant more to me than life itself,' did you mean that?"
"Yes, but don't read it [the letter]," said Harris, her face reddening, her hand going up to hide her face, "do we have to do it again, Joel?"
"Where you said, 'too bad Somerset Maugham didn't get hold of us before he died, he could have come up with something to top The Magnificent Obsession . . . you knew, didn't you, that Maugham didn't write Magnificent Obsession? Maugham actually wrote Of Human Bondage .
Harris broke down and began to cry, perhaps the hardest she's cried in this trial.
"I know Somerset Maugham didn't write The Magnificent Obsession . . . I just didn't like to think of it [her relationship to Tarnower] as human bondage." she sobbed. "Please . . . ." she pleaded. The judge called a recess.
Additional defense witnesses are expected Friday.