Willie Mae Harris, 72 and blind, has been granted parole 35 years after being sentenced to life in prison for killing her husband. Harris has been serving a life sentence at the Wrightsville Women’s Facility in Arkansas and has been recommended five times for clemency since 1988. No governor agreed until Asa Hutchinson’s decision in March 2020.
“You just don’t understand the joy that I’m feeling right now,” Harris’s daughter, Silvia Harris Wilkins, told The Appeal. “My biggest fear was burying my mother in prison.
“Just to know that I don’t have to do that and she’s coming home is such a relief.”
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Wilkins was only 14 when her mother was sentenced to 140 years in 1985 for first-degree murder. Harris shot her husband, Clyde Harris, in January 1985 in the midst of an argument while they were in bed.
She said her husband accused her of giving him gonorrhea and tried to have anal sex with her. When she refused, she said her husband called “her names and slung her around.”
Harris then pulled out a pistol from her purse and started hitting her husband with it and it fired, killing him. Harris at trial said she had no intent to shoot her husband and that his death was a tragic accident after years of abuse.
“When I lie my head down, my husband was threatening to kill me. And I don’t really know what happened. You all believe me, I did not shoot my husband,” she testified.
In March, Governor Hutchinson announced he planned to commute Harris’ life sentence.
“She been a victim of domestic violence for a long period of time [and] there was evidence of that,” Hutchinson said. “She proclaimed her innocence, but for a lot of reasons, I granted clemency to Willie Mae Harris.”
This month, the Arkansas parole board approved the governor’s recommendation of parole eligibility for the 72-year-old. Her attorney told The Appeal she will be freed in 45 days at the most, which is the maximum time given to Arkansas and Texas to agree on the parameters of her parole.
Harris is planning to live in Texas with her two daughters when she is finally released. Wilkins described her mother’s reaction when she received news of her release: “You can hear it in her voice, nothing but joy, the smile in her voice. She’s just excited.”