PORTLAND – Bella Harris, a Gorham woman charged with stabbing her husband in the face and torso with a dagger, will be given a psychological evaluation to determine whether she is competent to stand trial and whether mental illness may have interfered with her ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Her lawyer, J.P. DeGrinney of Portland, said Harris is a victim of long-standing abuse and acted in self-defense.

Harris, 26, pleaded not guilty Friday at an initial appearance in Cumberland County Unified Criminal Court before Justice Roland Cole to charges of attempted murder, two counts of elevated aggravated assault and a separate charge of aggravated assault.

Harris is charged in the domestic violence stabbing of her husband, Dana Harris, 43. Dana Harris had himself been charged with manslaughter in 1990 for shooting his roommate between the eyes, but said it was an accident and was acquitted by a jury.

In court Friday, Justice Cole granted DeGrinney’s request that the state authorize a forensic psychological examination to help determine whether his client is competent to stand trial, and to help determine whether she may be not guilty because of mental disease or defect. He also asked that Harris be taken to Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta for a period of evaluation.

“There is a significant pattern of his being violent with her,” DeGrinney said, referring to Dana Harris. “He’s huge, a very big man. She’s a peanut . . . She has suffered and has mental health issues.”

DeGrinney provided no specifics on Della Harris’ mental illness, and there is no record of her seeking a protection order against her husband in Cumberland County.

Harris was arrested March 9 by Gorham police after she allegedly stabbed her husband multiple times in the face, back and torso. Medical personnel at first thought her husband might not survive the attack.

When Sgt. Sears Edwards and Officer Chelsea Emmons arrived, they found a trail of blood leading from the master bedroom downstairs to a spot behind the living room couch, where Dana Harris was lying in a pool of blood gasping for breath. His 20-year-old daughter, who had called police, was trying to staunch the bleeding.

Cumberland County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Brill, who was backing up the Gorham officers, said in his report that there was blood on the floor, walls, door and bed.

“It looked like the victim had been stabbed while he was in bed,” Brill wrote, and that he then fled, grabbing the door handle and leaving it covered in blood.

Asked about that conclusion, DeGrinney said: “There is going to be significant dispute as to how the incident occurred, why it occurred and exactly what happened.”

Bella Harris told police that night: “We were arguing and he hit me and I grabbed the knife and stabbed him,” according to police reports. The reports say nothing of any injuries to her.

The couple had recently moved to Phinney Street in Gorham from California and had earlier lived in Massachusetts. Bella Harris told police that her husband suggested moving back to California, which started a fight earlier in the day.

She told police it was a “small” knife and that it was still in the bedroom. Officers said they found several knives in the bedroom, but no little ones. The only one covered in blood was a dagger-like knife with an eight to 10-inch blade, the police reports said.

Dana Harris’ daughter said she did not see the attack. She was outside smoking a cigarette when she heard several loud thumps. She went inside and saw her father bleeding and Bella Harris throwing a “heavy glass” at him, she told police.

Bella Harris was arrested and taken to jail that night. She has been held on $100,000 bail at Cumberland County Jail since her arrest.

Police called the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee the well-being of the couple’s three-and-a-half-month-old daughter, who was in another room of the house.

Dana Harris was at the center of a high-profile case in York County when he was 20 and living in Saco.

His roommate Joseph Lowe was fatally shot in the head. Another roommate, Simon Langdon, blamed it on a black man and police temporarily detained a high school senior who is black and lived on the same street, but then released him after questioning.

Langdon recanted his story and instead said he, Harris and Lowe were drinking and fooling around with guns when Harris pulled the trigger on his 9 mm handgun. Harris, who led police to where he had hidden the gun in the woods, said he did not know it was loaded at the time of the shooting.

Harris’ attorney at the time, Daniel G. Lilley, argued that the shooting was caused by youthful carelessness but not the reckless disregard for life or safety necessary for a manslaughter conviction.

The jury agreed.

Dana Harris could not be reached for comment.

In the case against Bella Harris, who also goes by the name Roberta, there are more than 500 pages of information related to the investigation, DeGrinney said. He has yet to be able to review it with Harris because she has not been properly medicated, he said.

DeGrinney said he plans to call witnesses from California and southern states. A trial could be scheduled for the end of the summer.

“We will be presenting a defense of self-defense, and are quite confident that any reasonable jurors looking at this case will agree,” DeGrinney said.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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