Locked up for 2 1/2 years, murder suspect Maurice Nasmeh is no longer in Santa Clara County jail's online database of prisoners Thursday morning, a day after a judge ruled prosecutors were taking too long to bring him to trial for the high-profile disappearance and death of Jeanine Harms.

The judge's decision to throw out the charge added another stunning twist to one of the South Bay's most puzzling murder mysteries and left prosecutors scrambling to revive the case against the 43-year-old architect, last seen with Harms after a date in 2001.

Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham's ruling left Harms' anguished parents searching for optimism.

"We look at this as kind of a stumbling block," said Jess Sanchez, Harms' father, who kept his remarks brief. "We are going to wait for the system to go all the way through the process. This is not the same as being found not guilty. This is just a delay."

At a hearing Wednesday, Nasmeh's attorney asked the court to start the trial in 60 days, but Deputy District Attorney Dale Sanderson said his case was not ready.

Sanderson said he needed at least a year to retest key fiber evidence found in the back of Nasmeh's SUV that is at the heart of the case. After the hearing, Sanderson said he plans to re-file charges against Nasmeh after the tests are completed.

The original tests on the fibers were called into question because the criminologist who analyzed the evidence had failed to pass certification tests for his job. Painstaking tests are required because millions of tiny fibers need to be studied.

Nasmeh will have no legal restrictions when he leaves jail.

A California Supreme Court action on an earlier motion in the case last week cleared the way for its return to Santa Clara County Superior Court. That's when Nasmeh's attorney Dan Jensen invoked Nasmeh's right to be tried within 60 days.

"Nobody won. This is a lose, lose situation," Jensen said. "The Harms family is not getting any closure on this," he said.

And of Nasmeh, he added, "Maurice is going to have a cloud over his head the rest of his life. It's always going to follow him. He lost his job, he lost his house and this has devastated his family."

Harms' disappearance captured national attention and was featured on "America's Most Wanted."

The 42-year-old Los Gatos woman disappeared from her Los Gatos duplex on July 27, 2001, after a date with Nasmeh, whom she had just met that evening. Police said he was the last person to see her alive.

Authorities say fibers found in Nasmeh's car linked him to Harms' disappearance. Those fibers were from a crafts project Harms worked on in her home that were also 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.

Jensen hired his own fibers expert who concluded that fibers found in Nasmeh's vehicle are common fibers found everywhere, including car upholstery.

Jensen said he has never doubted Nasmeh's innocence. He maintains several other male acquaintances of Harms could have been responsible for her disappearance. The DA's office said it interviewed several men during its lengthy investigation, but none of them were considered suspects.

"If we had gone to trial," Jensen said, "I know the fiber evidence we would have presented would have convinced a jury that he was innocent."

Sanderson, however, said he remains certain of Nasmeh's guilt, although he doesn't believe the 43-year-old architect will be a danger to the public upon his release. "He murdered Jeanine Harms. I believe he is going to do everything now to walk the straight and narrow."

Jensen said after speaking to Nasmeh briefly in court that he seemed to be having a hard time taking it all in. "I think he's relieved, but I think he's flat-lining right now."

Nasmeh's mother attended the hearing, looking pensive as she waited for the judge's ruling. She did not want to comment. Harms' family and friends, who normally attend court hearings, were noticeably absent.

Assistant District Attorney David Tomkins said the DA's office was not surprised by dismissal of the charges because its case would not be ready to move forward for several months.

"We knew dismissal was a possibility when we realized we wanted to re-analyze the fibers, that one possibility would be that the defendant would insist on his speedy trial rights. And we knew we wouldn't have the fibers ready," Tomkins said.

Nasmeh told police he left Harms' duplex as she slept on her living room sofa. He was the last person known to have seen her alive.

The key break in the case came in July of 2003 when Harms' rug suddenly turned up. A woman who saw a news report about the missing rug called police, saying she had found it two years earlier next to a shopping center dumpster.

Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5647.