Dawn Beasley received a phone call in January 2020 that changed her life — and the course of a murder trial.
Carl Harris was about to be tried for the murder of Dawn’s friend Tracey Harris in 1990. Jordan Davis, Assistant District Attorney for Dale County, told Beasley that she needed her to testify at the trial. Beasley, who is speaking out for the first time, says the request made her feel like her life was over because of a secret she had kept for 30 years. Maureen Maher, correspondent for “48 Hours,” reports in “The 30-Year Secret — The Tracey Harris Murder,” which airs Saturday, August 21 at 10/9c on CBS and Paramount +.
Carl Harris was known to Dawn Beasley. He was Tracey’s ex-husband and Tracey’s young daughter’s father. Tracey, 22, and Carl, 25, had continued to live together in Ozark, Alabama, despite their divorce. Beasley and her fiancé briefly stayed with the Harris family in their home just months before Tracey’s murder in 1990. Beasley got an inside look at Tracey’s family life. However, she claims that what she witnessed shocked and disturbed her. Carl, according to Beasley, had a violent temper.
Beasley stated that she and her fiancé had moved out due to the constant fighting. Dawn was only 20 years old, pregnant, and eager to start her own family. On March 7, 1990, Tracey vanished from her home. A week later, her body was discovered in the nearby Choctawhatchee River. Tracey drowned, according to the autopsy, but she had marks on her neck that were likely caused by strangulation. Her death was determined to be a homicide.
Beasley, like others in town who thought Carl was abusive to Tracey, said she wasn’t surprised when Carl was named as a suspect. She gave Ozark Police a statement in 1990, detailing the domestic violence incidents she claims she witnessed between Carl and Tracey.
According to authorities, more than a dozen other witnesses came forward to say Carl abused Tracey. Carl also had a girlfriend, which they discovered. Carl was thought to be the last person to see Tracey alive, according to investigators.
Carl denies murdering her.
Despite the suspicion, there was insufficient evidence to charge Carl at the time. Tracey’s murder remained unsolved. The case was then taken up by the Ozark Police Department’s cold case unit in 2015. Carl Harris was arrested on September 13, 2016 for the murder of Tracey Harris after an investigation.
“What’s different in 2016 that wasn’t there or obvious in 1990?” Maher asked Dale County District Attorney Kirke Adams. In order to prepare for the trial, Ozark Police re-interviewed many of the people who had previously provided statements. Dawn Beasley, who had moved away from Ozark, was one person they hadn’t re-interviewed. Beasley claims she was unaware Carl had been arrested in connection with Tracey’s murder.
As prosecutors Adams and Davis continued to prepare their case against Carl Harris and sorted through witness statements in January 2020, Beasley’s original statement piqued their interest.
Davis was finally able to locate Beasley after several failed attempts.
Beasley stated that she panicked when she received the phone call.
“And I overhear her say, ‘You’re the only one who saw him with his hands around her throat.'” “I think it was the word ‘decline’ that upset Jordan tremendously,” said District Attorney Adams, “because now I have on the phone a very upset assistant district attorney who is determined to get Dawn to come to court.”
When the subpoena was served, Beasley was upset, according to an investigator.
However, the assistant district attorney was dropping her child off at school the next morning when Beasley called back. What she said next caught Davis completely off guard.
Kirke Adams, Davis’ boss, said she immediately called him and said, “‘I’m hoping you’re sitting down.’… ‘Carl Harris did not murder Tracey,’ she added.”
Carl Harris’ murder trial, which was scheduled to begin in three days, was postponed. Dawn Beasley’s revelation sparked a new frenzy of investigation to determine who murdered Tracey Harris. On the day Carl Harris’ trial was to begin, the DA instead held a press conference announcing that the charges against Carl had been dropped and that another man had been arrested for Tracey Harris’ murder.