The trial at the Westchester County Court in New York lasted three months and became a national melodrama. Harris pleaded temporary insanity and accidental death insisting that she had only wanted to kill herself.
The question of intent was the main issue. Defence and prosecution lawyers produced witnesses who argued fiercely over forensics, where Tarnower was when he was shot and the trajectory of the bullets. George Bolen, the prosecution lawyer, argued that Harris descended upon Tarnower in his sleep and shot him. He awoke and put his hand up in a futile attempt to ward off a bullet and then Harris pumped the gun twice more and ran into the bathroom where she threw Tryforos’ things around.
Harris’ defence lawyer, Joel Aurnou, was heavily criticised for not sufficiently preparing his client for the trial. The jury wasn’t offered the option of first-degree manslaughter – the mercy option – and the mental health professionals who tested and treated Harris were not called to testify.
The most damning piece of evidence against Harris was the 10-page letter she had written to Tarnower. In it she repeatedly called Tryforos vulgar names and it included passages that showed her complete lack of self-worth. Bolen read the letter to the jury who were shocked by its contents and after deliberating for eight days found Harris guilty of second-degree murder. She was sentenced to 15 years to life at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York.