San Jose man guns down sister's alleged killer


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(01-16) 19:18 PST SAN JOSE -- In a shocking act of vigilantism, the older brother of a Los Gatos woman who vanished in 2001 followed the prime suspect in the case into a Peet's coffee shop in San Jose and gunned him down before turning the weapon on himself, authorities said.

The Saturday night shooting at the El Paseo de Saratoga Shopping Center, which killed both men, came as police approached a decade of investigation into the mysterious disappearance of Jeanine Sanchez Harms, a 42-year-old technology firm manager, after a night of bar-hopping.

San Jose police officials identified the gunman as Wayne Sanchez, 52, who lived with his parents in Campbell, less than a mile from the coffee shop. At 9:19 p.m, they said, he shot Maurice Nasmeh, 46, the last person known to have seen Harms alive.

Nasmeh, a San Jose architect, had been arrested in December 2004 and charged with murder, but was released after 2 1/2 years. He maintained his innocence, while Santa Clara County prosecutors insisted they had the right man and would continue to pursue him.

"Are you kidding me?" asked Nasmeh's attorney, Daniel Jensen, when told of the shooting by The Chronicle on Sunday. "He killed an innocent man. Justice didn't get done here. Instead, we got two more victims and we still have a killer out there walking free."

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen expressed condolences to the Sanchez and Nasmeh families - in particular to Georgette and Jess Sanchez, the parents of Sanchez and Harms. In an interview, he said evidence in the case had been sent to an outside criminalist in the past two years, with results from the analysis expected to be returned to him within six months.

Asked about Nasmeh, Rosen said, "All I can say is that we had charged him with the murder of Jeanine Harms. The charges were dismissed and we are continuing our investigation."

Scott Seaman, chief of the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department, said, "This is a completely unexpected tragedy and my thoughts are with the families who are affected by this."

Seeking closure

At Sanchez's home in Campbell, relatives declined to talk Sunday, with one man shouting, "No reporters!" Neighbors said the family, while desperate to find closure in Harms' disappearance, had seemed to try to move past it. For the second year in a row, they said, the family decorated a Christmas tree - after years of forgoing holidays.

The Peet's store was closed Sunday. But a young man who works next door gave an account of the shooting, which he said was witnessed by his best friend.

The friend, he said, was washing dishes when a man yelled, "That's the man who killed my sister!" Another person called for security, saying they were being stalked. There were two gunshots in rapid succession, and later a third.

San Jose police Sgt. Jason Dwyer said the incident began minutes earlier, when Sanchez and Nasmeh exchanged words in a Red Robin restaurant in the same shopping center.

"It is believed that during the course of the conversation, the suspect accused the victim of being responsible for the murder of Jeanine Harms," Dwyer said in a press release.

Dwyer said Sanchez left and then returned, prompting Nasmeh to leave and go to Peet's. Sanchez followed him there and engaged him in conversation again before shooting him.

"The suspect left the coffee shop and walked into the parking lot," Dwyer said. "As San Jose Police officers arrived on scene, they heard a sound they believed to be a gunshot. The officers located the suspect in the parking lot, deceased from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound."

Focus on rug

Harms, who was 42, vanished July 27, 2001, after a night out in Campbell. Her body has never been found.

Nasmeh was arrested in December 2004 following a 3 1/2-year investigation during which police made public a photograph of a Persian-style rug that was among the objects missing from Harms' home.

Authorities said a woman came forward and said she and her daughter had picked up such a rug about the time Harms disappeared. It was rolled up at a construction site a half-mile from Nasmeh's home.

Analysis by two crime labs indicated that fibers from the rug matched ones found at Harms' home and in the cargo bed of Nasmeh's 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee, authorities said.

However, a judge dismissed murder charges in June 2007 after prosecutors conceded they were unprepared to go to trial. Nasmeh was ordered released after spending about 2 1/2 years in jail.

"I don't consider (Nasmeh) to be the suspect," Deputy District Attorney Dale Sanderson said after moving to drop the charges. "I consider him to be the murderer."

On Sunday, Sanderson declined comment.

Jensen, Nasmeh's attorney, said his client had consistently told police the same story: that he met Harms at a Campbell bar, returned to her house to drink beer and smoke marijuana, and left her dozing on her couch after midnight.

Jensen said the rug fiber evidence was weak and that prosecutors had little other evidence against Nasmeh.

On Sunday, there was no sign that the coffee shop killing had happened on findjeanine.com, a website dedicated to putting away Harms' killer. A ticker in the upper right corner said she had been missing for 3,461 days.

E-mail the writers at cnewton@sfchronicle.com, mkuruvila@sfchronicle.com and dbulwa@sfchronicle.com.


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