The Appeal reports that the Arkansas Parole Board has granted parole to Willie Mae Harris, 72 and blind, who was sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband 35 years ago.
She’d been recommended five times for clemency, all denied by previous governors, but granted in March by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. From The Appeal:
“You just don’t understand the joy that I’m feeling right now,” Harris’s daughter, Silvia Harris Wilkins, told The Appeal. Wilkins was 14 when her mother was convicted of first-degree murder.
“My biggest fear was burying my mother in prison,” she said. “Just to know that I don’t have to do that and she’s coming home is such a relief.”
Harris, who is planning to live in Texas with her two daughters, will be freed in 45 days at the most, the maximum time Arkansas and Texas are allotted to agree on the parameters of her parole, according to her attorney.
“You can hear it in her voice, nothing but joy, the smile in her voice. She’s just excited,” Wilkins said of her mother’s reaction to the news of her release.
To celebrate, Wilkins said she is planning a socially distanced fish fry for her mother in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Harris is from. They also plan to visit the home of Harris’s mother, who died while she was incarcerated.
Harris, who has been a model prisoner, always contended her husband’s shooting was an accident.
Harris shot her husband, Clyde Harris, in January 1985 during an argument while in bed. After he had accused her of having gonorrhea, he attempted to have anal sex with her, according to her trial testimony. She pulled out a pistol she kept in her purse and started hitting him with it, Harris testified. At one point, the gun went off and the single shot killed Clyde.
At trial, Harris told the jury that her husband’s death was a tragic accident preceded by years of abuse. “When I lie my head down, my husband was threatening to kill me,” she testified. “And I don’t really know what happened. You all believe me, I did not shoot my husband.”
Harris is held at the Wrightsville unit.