28 years later, El Dorado County woman faces second murder trial
On July 27, 1985, a local land surveyor facing divorce called the El Dorado County Sheriff's Office from one of two family homes near Wilderness Way, south of Placerville.
"I think I just shot my husband," Colleen Ann Batten told a dispatcher.
Last Sunday, sheriff's officers arrested the same woman – now Colleen Ann Harris – on suspicion of shooting and killing another husband at a neighboring property.
The arrest of Harris, 70, a rural resident who asked neighbors to pony up money for road-paving and orderly mailboxes, stirred memories of her acquittal 27 years ago in a sensational Placerville murder trial.
Up a meandering mountain road from the wooded house on Wilderness Court, where authorities say she shot and killed Robert Edward Harris, 72, a week ago, longtime neighbor Dan McKelvie is puzzled over the tales of one woman, two husbands and two deaths in the same rustic community.
"She was acquitted last time. So I can't say there were two murders," said McKelvie, who merely knew Colleen Harris as a "very nice person" who had a court case long ago involving a husband who died.
"But I would like to go to the courthouse to see what this is all about. I'm just blown away by the coincidence."
The last time authorities responded, they had gotten a call about the shotgun killing of Harris' then-husband, James Batten, 46. In an emergency call, she told authorities she was "scared" and that her husband was "lying on the floor" and "won't get up."
She also told the dispatcher, "He said he was going to kill me. Oh God!"
A trial that followed pitted the prosecutor's contention that she had gunned down her husband after a dispute over dividing up property in a divorce case against defense arguments that she acted in self-defense in response to ongoing abuse.
As the trial unfolded in January and February 1986 at the historic courthouse in downtown Placerville, the local Mountain Democrat newspaper chronicled the proceedings with screaming headlines: "Colleen Batten – murderess or martyr?" and "Batten killing – justifiable homicide or murder?"
In court, defense attorney David Weiner called a psychiatrist to testify that Colleen Batten – despite her 911 call – suffered from traumatic amnesia and had no recollection of the killing.
On the witness stand, Batten testified to remembering that, before the shooting, her then-husband held a gun to her head, threatened to kill her and forced her to commit a sex act after boasting of having sexually abused a daughter for more than a decade.
Weiner told jury members, "It would be a horrible mistake to find her guilty of murder," urging the panel: "Acquit her. Let her go home to her family. Hopefully, in time, the scars will heal."
But the prosecutor, then-chief assistant district attorney Walt Miller, argued that Colleen Batten had waited an hour before calling police after shooting James Batten with a .410-bore shotgun as he was apparently reading a newspaper in bed. Miller alleged that she moved in to finish her husband off with a second round at close range and later planted a pistol on the bed to make it appear as a self-defense killing.
The jury acquitted Colleen Batten of murder after a judge declined to allow a lesser charge of manslaughter.
Jury foreman ...
Image: Friends of Colleen Harris told CBS13 as they left the courtroom that she killed her husband in ... with friends and family there in support. Friends of Colleen Harris told CBS13 as they left the courtroom that she killed her ...
01/10/2013 - comments
Image: Image Detail: Colleen Harris Man found dead from single gunshot wound. A 70-year-old woman ...
01/08/2013 - comments
... if we had rendered a different verdict,” Murdered Robert Harris had been an active volunteer member of the El Dorado County Sheriff's ... Laura Cole. Laufman remembers the 1986 murder trial of Colleen Harris, Colleen Batten at the time, very vividly. Did she seem like ...