Lynnfield man denies killing his wife

He says polygraph shows innocence

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / December 13, 2009

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The Lynnfield man accused by his wife’s family of killing her during a November trip to the US Virgin Islands spoke out for the first time yesterday, declaring his innocence and saying the results of a polygraph test show he played no role in his wife’s death.

In an afternoon news conference in his lawyer’s officer, Robert Harris said he has been grieving his wife’s death, and has been pained by her family’s “slanderous’’ accusations that he killed her to claim her $3 million estate.

He has not been charged and has maintained that his wife, Joan Baruffaldi, hanged herself after they had an alcohol-fueled argument.

“I’m innocent,’’ Harris said, before a room filled with television news cameras. “I love my wife, I miss my wife, and this needs to stop.

“I intend to press on to allow my wife to rest in peace,’’ he added. “That is the duty of myself, her husband,’’ Harris said.

His attorney, Kevin J. Reddington of Brockton, threatened to immediately file lawsuits against anyone who continues to accuse Harris of murder, calling it slander and libel.

And Reddington also said that a review by his private investigator Thomas P. Shamshak Sr., a private investigator, former police chief, and securities analyst, of evidence gathered by police in the Virgin Islands shows that the death was suicide and not murder.

“I will not stand by while this family continues their relentless pursuit of this false accusation,’’ Harris said.

The body of Baruffaldi, a 45-year-old veterinarian and mother of two, remains in a Somerville funeral home while her husband and immediate family battle for control over her estate. Her family has called for a second autopsy to be performed, doubting the thoroughness of the first autopsy in the Virgin Islands.

Family members, in court records and through their lawyer Donald McNamee, have alleged a violent relationship between Baruffaldi and Harris in claiming that he killed her. The two were married less than three years, and Baruffaldi had taken out a restraining a month before their trip to the Virgin Islands. She had the order vacated days later.

Family members said they have also spoken with witnesses who heard the couple arguing the day before her death, and they have questioned Harris’s claim that his wife hanged herself from a shower curtain rod.

A medical examiner in the Virgin Islands initially ruled Baruffaldi’s death a suicide, based on what Harris told authorities. But police investigators, on the island of St. John, said the investigation is ongoing and they have the final say in determining a cause of death.

Wilson J. Campbell, chief of the criminal Division of the Department of Justice’s office in the Virgin Islands, said yesterday that investigators are awaiting the results of toxicology results, but that he would not object to a second autopsy.

He would not discuss the circumstances of Baruffaldi’s death.

McNamee released a statement yesterday saying, “the family considers the alleged polygraph results as suspicious and also considers the alleged report of the private detective as factually questionable. The cause of death of Joan M. Baruffaldi will be decided in the courts, not during a Saturday afternoon press conference.’’

Saying both families may have a conflict of interest in overseeing Baruffaldi’s estate, an Essex Probate and Family Court judge appointed an independent administrator to manage her affairs. That special administrator will determine final control of the estate and whether a second autopsy should be performed. The administrator, Boston attorney David W. Eppley, has refused to comment on the case.

In her will, Baruffaldi listed her husband as the executor and beneficiary of her estate. Reddington has said his client would be open to a second autopsy conducted by a neutral examiner, but he has also cited court decisions that stated that second autopsies were suspect in nature because of the repeated testing of the body.

Harris submitted to a polygraph test Dec. 9 conducted by David Raskin, a forensic assessments specialist in Arizona.

During the test, Harris said he and his wife had been arguing, she got out of bed and went into the bathroom, and she refused to come out, according to a copy of Raskin’s report. After about 15 minutes, he said, he heard a loud thump from the bathroom, and found the door locked. After calling hotel security, who came and opened the door, he found her hanged with the sash of a bathrobe, Raskin’s report said.

Harris answered no when he was asked whether he tied the bathrobe belt around his wife’s neck, whether he physically caused her injuries, whether he hanged her, and whether he physically caused her to die.

According to Raskin’s report, he received a score of 19, and a passing score is above six.

Milton Valencia can be reached at