Manhattan jury convicts doctor who gave fatal doses of supplement to wife

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By Dan Sears

A Manhattan jury convicted a doctor of second-degree manslaughter on Thursday after prosecutors said he used his wife as a test subject and gave her fatal doses of a mineral supplement called selenium to treat her chronic illness.

Dr. Jeffrey Harris could spend up to 15 years in prison. His wife, Tammy Harris, died at Lenox Hill Hospital during a 2018 trip to New York City.

A medical examiner found 1,700 micrograms of selenium in her body, according to prosecutors. The National Institutes of Health lists the daily upper limit for adults at 400 micrograms, while the recommended amount is just 55 micrograms.

“The dose makes the poison,” Assistant District Attorney Heather Pearson said during closing arguments this week.

Prosecutors said multiple doctors had diagnosed Tammy Harris with lupus, an autoimmune disease, but that her husband did not want to accept their medical advice. Instead, the district attorneys argued that he became obsessed with his own theory that she had elevated levels of mercury and that he concocted his own treatment plan for her, including giving her excessive doses of selenium in the months leading up to her death. They said he continued to pursue his theory even after medical tests found no abnormal levels of mercury in her body.

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Harris’ defense attorney, Jason Goldman, said his client was “stubborn” and “misguided,” but that he was acting out of love.

“He was trying to save her,” Goldman said during closing statements. “He was convinced that he was.”

Prosecutors described Harris as a controlling husband who used his knowledge of medicine to intimidate his wife and her daughters from a past relationship and deter them from seeking other forms of treatment. They also said that as a doctor he should have known the risk he was taking when he continued to give her selenium and ignored the advice of other medical professionals.

“He recklessly chose to disregard every rule and every limit,” Pearson told the jury.

Pearson said the selenium gradually poisoned Tammy Harris as it accumulated in her body, killing her from the inside out. Her hair fell out, her nails became brittle, her muscles wasted away and she lost dozens of pounds. At one point, Pearson said, Tammy Harris weighed only 77 pounds.

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While Harris received extensive training in medical school, Goldman said, he was untrained in the theories he was reading about online and testing on his wife. He said Harris became “firmly convinced” that there were heavy metals in his wife’s body and that selenium was the way to get rid of them. Goldman also denied that Harris used his medical background to control his wife, noting that she was a nurse and was also passionate about nontraditional medicine.

The trial lasted five weeks and included testimony from doctors, the medical examiner and Tammy Harris’ daughters. Closing arguments spanned two days. A jury returned a guilty verdict after just a few hours.

“We are disappointed, to say the least, but will turn our attention towards sentencing, where I am hopeful the judge will be lenient on Dr. Harris, a man who has already lost so much,” his attorney said in a statement after the decision. Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg said his office plans to pursue “a prison sentence appropriate for this horrific crime.”

“Tammy Harris was full of joy and loved by many before her husband took her care into his own hands and killed her with his reckless, unethical treatment over the course of many excruciatingly painful months,” Bragg said in a statement. “Jeffrey Harris ignored the pleas of doctor after doctor and prevented Tammy’s family and friends from getting her the care she truly needed.”

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