January 10, 2013 | Back to: News

Wife arrested in former forest supervisor's death

El Dorado County Sheriff's deputies arrested the wife of former Lake Tahoe Forest Supervisor Bob Harris on suspicion of murder over the weekend after finding Harris' body in a home near Placerville.

Deputies responded to a report of a homicide at a residence on the 3200 block of Wilderness Way Jan. 6 and met with Colleen Ann Harris, 70, according to a sheriff's spokesman. Deputies entered the house and found a body, later identified as 72-year-old Robert Edward Harris, Colleen's husband.

Robert Harris appeared to have sustained a fatal gunshot wound. During the investigation, Colleen Harris was arrested and booked into El Dorado County jail on suspicion of one count of murder. No bail is listed.

Robert Harris served as the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Forest Supervisor from 1988 through 1997 and was involved in numerous projects, including facilitating completion of the basin's forest plan, working on the Taylor Creek Visitor Center, trail construction in Desolation Wilderness and securing the first round of funding for the Environmental Improvement Program, according to information from Forest Service employee Don Lane.

"During his tenure as Forest Supervisor, Bob was known for his love for Lake Tahoe and for his passion to bring consensus to the agencies managing the Tahoe Basin," Lane wrote.

He was active with the Tahoe-Baikal Institute and had three children, according to Lane. He was also a volunteer with the sheriff's STAR program since 1997, according to a sheriff's statement.

Sunday was not the first time Colleen Harris has been taken into custody on a murder charge. She was arrested in July 1985 in connection with the death of her second husband, James Roger Batten, then 47. As reported in the Mountain Democrat on July 31, 1985, Harris, then 43 and known as Colleen Batten, called dispatch and told them her husband was dead. Upon arrival, deputies found James Batten's body, with two gunshot wounds in his side. An article on Feb. 7, 1986, reported Harris first shot Batten in the side, then moved into a better position and shot him in the heart.

An Aug. 2, 1985 article revealed Harris said she killed Batten after he threatened to kill her and laughed about raping Harris' daughter from a previous marriage. Harris had filed a report in September 1979 that Batten had been sexually assaulting Harris' daughter between the ages of 12 and 21. Batten was arrested, but Harris requested the charges be dropped, as she and her daughter wanted to keep the family together, according to a subsequent article.

Harris testified during her murder trial that Batten was a violent man, saying she wanted him to seek psychological help. They were in the beginnings of a divorce when he was killed.

A psychiatrist had testified during the murder trial that Harris suffered from limited amnesia, as she could not actually remember shooting Batten. She had gaps in her memory, she said, of when Batten had held a gun to her head and raped her after she presented divorce papers to him.

David Weiner, Harris' attorney in both the 1985 case and the current case, said that she was found not guilty by the jury of nine women and three men "after just a few minutes."

"Because she had no recollection, the prosecution could not even cross-examine her on what her thoughts were, or what she did, and so forth, so they had a real problem establishing a mental state of mind, which is malice aforethought," Weiner was quoted saying in a June 30, 2003 article. "After the psychologist testified (that) she suffered from amnesia, the prosecution was pretty much left without the ability to prove anything more than manslaughter."

- Tahoe Daily Tribune reporter Adam Jensen contributed to this story.

Cole Mayer
cmayer@mtdemocrat.net


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 10, 2013 09:31PM Published Jan 10, 2013 09:28PM Copyright 2013 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.