OZARK — For more than 30 years, Carl Harris Jr. has dealt with people believing he was a killer — a man who had slain his wife.
All that changed Monday. But it’s bittersweet.
The break came after investigators recently interviewed a witness from the 1990 investigation, who told officers her ex-husband had killed Tracy Harris.
That’s why Harris’ attorney believes everyone involved with the cold case unit should resign due to negligence and incompetence in handling the case.
“This appalls me,” Harris’s attorney, David Harrison, said in a Tuesday press conference. “What the cold case unit at Ozark Police Department did to his life with incompetent evidence is just appalling.”
On Monday, the day Harris was to stand trial for murder, Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said charges against Harris had been dropped, and that Ozark police arrested a new suspect — Jeff Beasley, 54, of Ozark — in the 1990 death of Tracy Harris. Police said Beasley has admitted to killing her, and he has been charged with murder.
“This all could have been avoided in the 1990s if one phone call would have been made to the witness who came forward,” Harrison said. “(Carl Harris Jr.) 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.”
Harrison thanked the District Attorney’s Office for dropping the case against his client, but added he plans to look at the Constitution to see what redress can be pursued for the violation of Harris’ civil rights.
Adams contacted Harrison to offer condolences for what the system had put Harris through, the attorney said.
“There’s nothing that can be said to really apologize for what I have been through,” Harris said. “I have dealt with this for 30 years. What I do want is to make a public plea to my daughter. I love her, and I want a relationship with her. All of this should have been done back in 1990. She has my number; please give me a call. I love and miss her.
“I also want to know why it took 30 years for this witness to be contacted.”
Adams said the information regarding the witnesses was given to the Police Department, and with its assistance, a telephone number for the witness was located.
The Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office spoke with the witness, who was identified as Beasley’s ex-wife. After speaking with her, investigators talked to Beasley and say he admitted to killing Harris.
Ozark police Investigator Lt. Jimmy “J.C.” Culbreath, supervisor of the department’s cold case unit, testified at Harris’ preliminary hearing that Tracy Harris went missing March 7, 1990. Her body was discovered March 14, 1990, in the Choctawhatchee River off County Road 20.
An autopsy determined that she died by drowning, and that there was water and sand found in her lungs. It also noted bruising on the side of her neck consistent with strangulation.