Posted on Fri, Sep. 01, 2006

Appeals court to review evidence in slaying case

Mercury News

The 6th District Court of Appeal has agreed to hear a challenge by the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office that involves crucial evidence in the case against Jeanine Harms murder suspect Maurice Nasmeh.

The news is encouraging for prosecutors, who worried that their case might collapse if the appeals court decided not to hear it. Prosecutors have built their case against Nasmeh on fiber evidence found in his car that they say connects him to Harms' murder. A Superior Court judge last February threw out that evidence, which would have undermined the high-profile case.

The district attorney appealed the ruling by Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Linda Condron to the 6th District court.

The appellate court's decision, handed down last week, pleased prosecutors. ``We're still in there,'' Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins said.

The state Attorney General's Office is representing the district attorney's office in the appeal.

Condron had ruled that Los Gatos police violated their search protocol by seizing Nasmeh's Jeep Grand Cherokee, a move not allowed by their warrant. Condron said it was unacceptable for the vehicle to be kept for more than three weeks, so she barred crucial fiber evidence found in the car from being used at trial. Nasmeh's attorney, Daniel Jensen of San Jose, filed the original motion to suppress that evidence.

``I was hoping they were just going to go along with us and throw the attorney general and DA out on their ear,'' Jensen said. ``But they didn't.''

Nasmeh's SUV contained fibers that investigators say connect Nasmeh to Harms, a 42-year-old Los Gatos woman who disappeared in July 2001. Nasmeh, 42, a Campbell architect, and Harms met for the first time in a Campbell bar on the evening of July 27, 2001, and went together to another bar, then to her Los Gatos duplex. She was never seen again. Her body has not been found.

The fibers match a yarn crafts project that Harms had worked on in her home, as well as fibers found on Harms' area rug, which police believe was used in disposing of her body. Nasmeh's attorney says the fibers are commonly found in car seat insulation, including Nasmeh's car.

Without the fiber evidence, Nasmeh's attorney says there's nothing to connect his client to the homicide.

Prosecutors believe that Los Gatos police had the right to impound Nasmeh's car because they had probable cause to believe it contained evidence of a crime and was used to dispose of Harms' body.

The 6th District Court of Appeal has given defense attorneys until Sept. 25 to file opposition arguments. The Attorney General's Office is expected to file a reply, and oral arguments will be scheduled after that, possibly in November.

Nasmeh has been held in Santa Clara County Jail without bail since his December 2004 arrest.

Contact Connie Skipitares at or (408) 920-5647.

2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.