The county's top prosecutor admitted Wednesday morning that he had concerns and frustrations over the length of time it had taken to test key evidence in the murder of a Los Gatos woman who disappeared more than 10 years ago.
Addressing a room full of reporters during a news conference in his office at the Santa Clara County Government Center in San Jose, Jeff Rosen said he regretted not bringing to justice the late Maurice Nasmeh, the main suspect in the killing of Jeanine Sanchez-Harms.
The DA’s office charged Nasmeh with murder in 2004. He was arrested and jailed for more than two years. However, in 2007, the DA moved to dismiss the case to perform additional testing on the evidence after the proficiency of a key criminalist was called into question, in a case other than the Harms’ case.
A judge also ruled that some evidence obtained during a search warrant was not usable and needed to be retested by the Illinois-based Microtrace private laboratory.
Nasmeh invoked his right to a speedy trial, which meant he had to be tried within 60 days, but Rosen said there was no way that analysis could have been done in that short amount of time.
The evidence, however, went back and forth between the county lab and the Illinois lab for about three years. As each wave of evidence came back,
Rosen lamented the suffering of Jesus and Georgette Sanchez, the Campbell parents who waited more than a decade for a resolution to the case and who have now lost two children.
He acknowledged the still-lingering, unanswered questions about the perplexing case, such as where the body was disposed off and how the crime was exactly committed.
"What we don't know is how he did it [killed Harms] and why he did it," Rosen said. "But we know he did it ..."
Rosen pleaded with the public, along with , for anyone who may know where the body is located to come forward for the sake of Harms’ family,
Adding to the mystery surrounding her death, Rosen said the case's handling "wasn't perfect" but had "come to a close."
Seaman said "legal hurdles" that anyone with information about the body's whereabouts may face have "evaporated."
"Out of a sense of rightness, this is now the time for someone to come forward, and I firmly believe that someone does, in fact, know what happened to Jeanine, and ask for them to please come forward and help the family and get the answer that they deserve," Seaman said.
The chief said the killing is unlikely to have been held a secret by a single person for 10 years. "If someone was told, we need to know what they were told," Seaman said. "Our pleas have generated additional leads, and I call for those again."
Los Gatos-Monte Sereno Police Investigation
Rosen said thelaunched an "extensive and exhaustive investigation" that included 15 detectives, 16 patrol officers and three police support persons who worked thousands of hours on the case.
He said the police report, which is more than 2,700 pages long, documents the following: more than 235 people interviewed, the execution of 12 search warrants, the collection of 24 DNA profiles and the search of 20 separate locations looking for Harms’ body.
The Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory used the services of approximately 15 laboratory criminalists or criminal investigators in the forensic disciplines of crime scene analysis, computer forensics, latent fingerprint processing, hair and fiber analysis, firearms examination and DNA analysis. The time invested by laboratory personnel totaled approximately 2,300 hours, generating 58 laboratory examination reports.
The Facts That Linked Nasmeh to the Murder
After spending time at the Rock Bottom Brewery in Campbell's Pruneyard, Nasmeh followed Harms to her Los Gatos apartment, according to the investigation. He took his Jeep Cherokee to the nearby Jiffy Market, where he purchased a six-pack of Heineken beer, in cans, for $8.25 that he paid for with a credit card. The two then returned to Harms’ residence. They each drank one beer.
Investigators never located any Heineken beer cans, the investigation report said.
Late following that evening, Harms' neighbor, Ebrahim Hashemi, was awakened by a loud bang. When he looked out the window at Harms' residence he saw an SUV-type vehicle, possibly green in color, driving away, the report said.
Nasmeh had a history of violence against women, especially when he had been drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana, "both of which he did" the night Harms disappeared, Rosen said.
The investigation revealed as many as seven separate victims and witnesses reported Nasmeh’s violence and threats of violence against women, which would be relevant to establishing his motive and intent to kill Harms, according to report.
A Persian Rug, the Key Piece of Evidence
Items missing from the apartment included the sofa cushions and couch cover from Harms’ loveseat. A Persian rug was also missing from Harms' apartment. Harms and these items disappeared at the same time. “There is no evidence that Ms. Sanchez-Harms was suicidal or planning to take a trip. The only logical conclusion to be drawn from this evidence is that Ms. Sanchez-Harms was the victim of homicide,” the report stated.
The Persian rug was found several weeks later less than a mile from Nasmeh’s home and almost four miles from Harms’ apartment.
The Santa Clara County Crime Lab did extensive work on the fiber evidence from the rug, and Microtrace studied the evidence for three years working on fiber analysis from the Persian rug and a latch hook rug that Harms had been working on at her residence.
“This is not like finding a needle in a haystack," Rosen said. "This is like finding a needle in a stack of needles. Microtrace didn't find just one fiber from one of those rugs in the back of [Nasmeh’s vehicle]; they found 13 fibers from the Persian rug in the back cargo area, and they found 14 fibers from the latch hook rug in the back of the jeep.
"There's no innocent explanation for those 27 fibers to be in the back of Maurice Nasmeh's Jeep Cherokee," he said.
About reasons for the delay in the fiber testing, Rosen said forensic scientists have been criticized in the past for hasty work and opinions that are not rigorously supported.
That's why Microtrace conducted a "rigorous, meticulous and exhaustive analysis so that scientific conclusions are beyond dispute," he said.
“Maurice Nasmeh murdered Sanchez-Harms, concealed her body in her Persian rug and used his Jeep Cherokee to dispose of her body,” Rosen said.
Rosen said he didn't want to re-file charges against Nasmeh in April of 2010 when Microtrace's preliminary report was completed because he wasn't completely sure about the findings.
But the question is, if he'd filed the charges earlier, would the murder-suicide have been averted?
Rosen conceded that a few months could have been shaved off some of the long waiting time, but he's not sure it would have made a difference in avoiding the January tragedy. "It wasn't perfect," he said about the investigation.
Friends React to DA's Investigation
A statement written by Harms' best friends, Janice Burnham and Chigiy Binell, said: "The DA's finding came as no surprise to us. The case may be closed but it feels like there may never be closure. This tragedy has spanned over 10 years and taken two beloved children from the Sanchez family. It is amazing and horrific how one act by one man can affect so many people and so many lives. Nothing can bring Jeanine and Wayne back, and we will miss them every day. They will never be forgotten. We would like to take this opportunity to ask anyone who has any information as to the location of Jeanine's remains to come forward so that the Sanchez family can finally bring Jeanine home."
Joining the women at the conference Wednesday was Jeanine's aunt, identified as Lucy, and one of Wayne Sanchez's daughters.