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Oprah Winfrey Show Episodes:
The Clara Harris Sentence

Commentary by
Dr. Reena Sommer

The Clara Harris Sentence - Oprah Winfrey is an incredible television host and interviewer. She shows tremendous versatility in the range of topics she presents and the variety of people she has interviewed over the years. Oprah always seems to know exactly what questions to ask and how to get the most out of her interviews. She did just that during her interview with Clara Harris, the Texas woman who was found guilty of murdering her husband after she learned that he was having an extramarital affair.

In discussing the Clara Harris sentence and the issues that led to her conviction, Oprah provided Clara Harris an opportunity to explain her side of the story. Early on during the interview, it became clear that Clara Harris's behavior was prompted by the shock and devastation she experienced when she found out that her husband was having an extramarital affair with a co-worker. It also became abundantly clear throughout the interview that Clara explained her husband's death as an "accident" which resulted from the extreme distress she experienced as a result of finding her husband with his lover.

In spite of Oprah's ability to show a side of the Clara Harris case that had not until then been available, I am nevertheless very disappointed in what I felt (by Oprah's omission) was a validation of Clara's account of her conduct. First, it troubles me that Oprah did not challenge Clara on the indisputable fact that her children are now without a father- and the reason for that is because she killed him. Instead, Clara tearfully described (without challenge) her pain of not being able to parent her children. There was also an element of callousness in Clara Harris as she described in a "matter of fact" way how she explained to her children that their father was accidentally killed - as if that was enough to address the fact that their father was taken from them forever and ever.

Second, there is the issue of Clara Harris' conduct following her discovery of her husband's extramarital affair. Oprah did not challenge Clara Harris on this either. I am not condoning infidelity or excusing Clara Harris' husband's conduct. But surely, Clara Harris' reaction to his infidelity - which included some very extreme behavior such as plans for cosmetic surgery, making love to him several times a night, stalking him, hiring a private investigator, assaulting his lover and then running him over repeatedly - is not normal, acceptable or excusable.

Unfortunately, infidelity is a painful reality for many relationships. In fact, recent studies reveal that 50-60% of married men and 45-55% of married women engage in extramarital sex at some time or another during their relationship (Atwood & Schwartz, 2002 - Journal of Couple & Relationship Therapy)." As you can see, Clara Harris is not the only wife to have been cheated on. And yes, the betrayal of infidelity frequently causes deep wounds that often take years to heal. But does this justify murder? Clearly, the court that handed down the Clara Harris sentence didn't think so.

Oprah, how come you did not pick up on this? What do you think Dr. Phil would have likely said? I know. He would have probably said what he often does when faced with people who don't take responsibility for their behavior. He would have said - "step up to the plate and be accountable". Oprah - I think you missed the boat on this one.

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Dr. Reena Sommer,
M.Sc. (Family Studies),
Ph.D.(Psychology & Family Studies)

Divorce & Custody Consultant
League City, TX. 77573
Phone: 281.534.3923
Dr. Reena Sommer


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