|New twist in Harms case|
|FIBERS WILL BE RETESTED, DELAYING TRIAL|
|By Connie Skipitares|
San Jose Mercury News
|Article Launched:06/23/2007 01:38:07 AM PDT|
Santa Clara County prosecutors said Friday that they will order a new full-scale lab analysis of fiber evidence in the Jeanine Harms murder case, which likely will delay the trial of defendant Maurice Nasmeh for another year.
Prosecutors say new testing is needed to lift the cloud hanging over fiber tests completed in 2004 by Santa Clara County crime lab technician Mark Moriyama, whose ability was called into question in the Harms case and in at least one other. It took Moriyama more than a year to complete the Harms fibers analysis.
The fiber evidence is the centerpiece of the district attorney's case against Nasmeh, a 43-year-old Campbell architect, who has been in Santa Clara County Jail since December 2004. The case has focused on fibers found in Nasmeh's Jeep Grand Cherokee that authorities linked to Harms' disappearance.
Also Friday, a challenge brought by Nasmeh's attorney to throw out the evidence was rejected by the California Supreme Court, which denied a defense request to review a lower court ruling. That ruling allows the fibers to be used at trial.
Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins said the Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the case to move forward. "The proper thing to do now is to have the fibers completely analyzed," he said. "The fibers evidence is everything. It can't just be pretty good. It has to be beyond question. We don't want to fail."
Tomkins said the district attorney's office remains confident about Moriyama's work on the case, "and that it will be corroborated" by new fiber testing. The district attorney's office will have to go outside the county's crime lab to tap a fibers expert. The job takes highly sophisticated skills. There is no one currently in the crime lab who could perform the tests, Tomkins said.
Nasmeh's attorney, Dan Jensen, complained about the case's delay because of the new testing. "The Harms family and the Nasmeh family have been terribly victimized by the system," he said in a prepared statement. "No closure for the Harms family, and Mr. Nasmeh has been incarcerated for over two and a half years for a crime he did not commit."
Jensen hired his own fiber expert, who concluded that fibers found in Nasmeh's vehicle are common fibers found everywhere, including car upholstery.
Authorities say the fibers taken from the cargo area of the vehicle were from a yarn crafts project that Harms worked on in her home. They also were found on a rug that disappeared when she did and was later recovered. Police believe the rug was used to dispose of her body, which has never been found.
Moriyama was once considered to be an expert in fiber analysis, but he is no longer doing fiber testing, although he remains with the crime lab. In 2005, when it was learned that he had not passed certain certification tests for his job, throwing his work into question, the district attorney's office sent the Harms test results to a Sacramento County crime lab for testing.
That lab tested only a portion of the fibers. Out of 50 samples tested, 30 confirmed Moriyama's results. Jensen said he believes the fiber samples were contaminated when they were moved from the San Jose lab to the Sacramento lab.
The new round of tests will examine all the fiber samples. The district attorney's office has not found a new laboratory to conduct the tests.
Harms, 42, disappeared from her Los Gatos duplex on July 27, 2001, after a date with Nasmeh, whom she had just met that evening. Nasmeh, who has pleaded not guilty, remains in Santa Clara County Jail without bail.
Contact Connie Skipitares at (408) 920-5647 or cskipitares@ mercurynews.com.