OZARK, Ala. (AP) — Authorities dropped charges against a man arrested in the slaying of his wife after another suspect admitted to the 1990 killing on the eve of the trial, prosecutors said Monday.
The surprise decision to clear Carl Harris Jr. in the death of Tracy Harris and arrest Jeff Beasley came after the defense raised questions about Harris’ guilt and authorities took another look at the case.
The decision to drop charges against Harris was announced on his 55th birthday.
The Dothan Eagle reported that evidence showed Tracy Harris went missing March 7, 1990, and her body was discovered a week later in the Choctawhatchee River. An autopsy determined she was drowned, and bruises on her neck showed signs of strangulation.
The case went unsolved until 2016, when Harris was arrested in South Carolina after police in Ozark reopened the investigation. He was freed on bond shortly after his arrest, records show, and his trial was set to begin Monday.
Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams said an aide recently noticed “very important information” about a witness while preparing for the trial, and that witness led investigators to Beasley, 54, of Ozark. Beasley, who was a friend of the couple at the time of the slaying, admitted killing the woman, Adams said.
Defense Attorney David Harrison said police hadn’t done anything to investigate a new suspect until after he filed a motion Friday implicating someone other than Harris.
“I do thank the district attorney’s office for looking into the witness and dropping the charges against my client,” he said. “But no one has apologized to my client for what he has gone through since his arrest.”
The Harris’ daughter, Carolyn Aznavour, said she was relieved to know her father did not kill her mother, but she doesn’t remember either of them. Repeated delays resulted in the latest arrest, she said.
“It was all in the Lord’s timing,” said Aznavour.
Court records weren’t immediately available to show whether Beasley had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.
Beasley pleaded guilty in 1991 to third-degree burglary and was sentenced to 15 years, court documents show, but it wasn’t clear how much time he served.