An Alabama man arrested in 2016 and charged with the decades-old killing of his wife has been cleared of the charges after a friend of the couple admitted strangling the woman and dumping her, still alive, in the Choctawhatchee River in 1990.
Jeffery Beasley, 54, of Ozark, was arrested Sunday and charged with murder in the death of Tracy Harris. Dale County Jail records show he is being held on bail of $150,000.
The shocking twist to the cold case was made public Monday, the same day Tracy Harris’ husband, Carl Harris Jr., was initially slated to stand trial. Monday was also Carl Harris’ 55th birthday.
Carl Harris and his attorney, David Harrison, on Tuesday called on the entire Ozark Police Department cold case team to resign.
"This appalls me," Harrison said at a news conference. "What the cold case unit at Ozark Police Department did to his life with incompetent evidence is just appalling."
“This all could have been avoided in the 1990s, if one phone call would have been made to the witness who came forward. (Carl Harris) has lost jobs, been evicted from homes, missed family members’ funerals and missed out with time with his family, all because a case was not fully investigated.”
The body of Tracy Harris was pulled from the Choctawhatchee River in Dale County March 14, 1990, a week after she was reported missing, according to the Eagle. An autopsy found water and sand in her lungs, indicating she drowned.
She was naked from the waist up, the newspaper reported in 2018. Her clothes were found elsewhere.
Bruising on her neck showed she was strangled before she was thrown into the water, the Eagle reported. Ozark police Chief Marlos Walker said Monday during a news conference that Tracy Harris' death was determined to be a homicide.
"I want to know why he done this," Carl Harris said Tuesday of Beasley, who he said he befriended all those years ago. "Why did he …?"
Harris’ voice trailed off as he was overcome with emotion.
Carl and Tracy Harris had divorced prior to her death, but got back together after the divorce had been finalized, The Associated Press reported last year.
The Tracy Harris case went cold until 2016, when Ozark police detectives reopened the investigation. They tracked Carl Harris down in South Carolina, where he had been living for two months, and arrested him in the killing.
Walker said Carl Harris’ arrest was based on circumstantial evidence and witness testimony.
"This was a strong circumstantial case," Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said Monday during a news conference. "However, as a result of our continual duty to pursue truth and justice, today I have dismissed the murder case against Carl Harris."
Adams explained that during preparation for Harris’ trial, Assistant District Attorney Jordan Davis discovered the statement of a witness who had not been spoken to since March 1990. Ozark police investigators tracked down a phone number for the witness, identified as Beasley’s ex-wife.
“We felt like her statement that she’d given was important, so we just took the effort of getting the police department to help us locate her,” Davis said. “We just lucked out that she was still in Alabama, so we could reach out to her and make contact with her.”
The woman was contacted by prosecutors last week. Adams said she was initially uncooperative, but relented after being subpoenaed in the case.
"Based on that conversation and the relentless determination of Ms. Davis, new evidence was discovered," Adams said.
Listen to Carl Harris and his attorney speak below, courtesy of WTVY in Dothan.
Walker, the police chief, said the evidence discovered during the conversation with Beasley’s ex-wife involved details that had never been shared with police.
Ozark detectives traveled more than 180 miles to re-interview the witness, Walker said.
“After conducting the interview with the witness, investigators felt there were enough facts present to locate and interview the person of interest (Beasley),” the chief said.
Ozark detectives, along with agents from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, located Beasley Jan. 11 at his home in Ozark and brought him in for questioning. During the interview, he confessed to killing Tracy Harris, the chief said.
"The suspect gave details about the crime that only the killer would know," Walker said.
Beasley was arrested Sunday and charged with murder.
Walker praised investigators, who he said worked night and day on the case since the new evidence came to light.
"This has been an amazing series of events, and no doubt in my mind, led from above," Adams said. "I think this arrest shows we never give up on getting the truth and serving justice."
Adams said that as a prosecutor, his oath is a unique one in the criminal justice system.
“My oath is to seek justice and not merely convictions,” Adams said, adding that his office’s burden is to seek justice for both victims and defendants. “That burden never rests.”
Harrison on Monday disputed the claim that Ozark investigators worked tirelessly on the case, according to the Eagle.
"This man was going to go to trial today," Harrison told the newspaper Monday. "No one did anything until I filed a motion Friday in my client's case implicating someone other than my client."
WTVY in Dothan reported that Harrison's motion named Carl Harris' former roommate in Friday's motion, alleging the man gave inconsistent statements to police in 1990. The man, Bobby Herring, was later convicted of and served prison time for raping another woman.
"The rape (of that girl) and the murder (of Tracy Harris) seem to have the same modus operandi, common plan, scheme and design," Harrison's filing stated, according to the news station.
Herring has not been charged in Tracy Harris’ death.
“That named subject was just a witness and a friend to Carl Harris,” Adams said when asked Monday about Herring’s connection to the case. “He was not the subject of the investigation.”
Harrison thanked Adams and his staff for looking into the witness who exonerated his client. On Tuesday, the defense lawyer said Adams had contacted Carl Harris to offer his condolences over his ordeal.
“There ain’t nothing they can say to apologize for what they did to me,” Carl Harris said. “The past three years, the past 30 years.”
He said he wants to know why it took three decades for Beasley’s ex-wife to be re-interviewed.
Harrison said he will be looking into whether he will file a civil rights lawsuit on his client’s behalf.
Carl and Tracy Harris' daughter, Carolyn Aznavour, was present for Monday's news conference. Aznavour, who has not seen her father since she was a toddler, wiped tears from her eyes as Adams spoke.
She spoke to reporters on her mother’s behalf after the news conference.
"It is a relief to know my father did not do this," Aznavour said, according to the Eagle. "I was only 4 when this happened, and I don't remember my mother or my father. I only knew them through pictures."
Aznavour said she believes the multiple delays in the case contributed to the truth coming out after so many years.
“I think this was all in God’s perfect timing,” she said.
At Tuesday’s news conference with his attorney, Carl Harris made a public plea to his daughter.
"I love her and I want a relationship with her," he said, according to the Eagle. "All of this should have been done back in 1990. She has my number. Please give me a call. I love and miss her."