The Community Newspaper of Evergreen Valley/ Silvercreek Valley since 1982

January 7, 2005

Justice for Jeanine

Maurice Nasmeh arrested for the murder of Jeanine Harms

By Julie Davis Berry
Executive Editor

Nearly three-and-a-half years after Jeanine Sanchez Harms vanished, the Los Gatos/Monte Sereno Police Department has arrested the man who was last seen with Harms on July 27, 2001.

Georgette and Jess Sanchez are relieved that a suspect has finally been arrested in the disappearance of their daughter Jeanine. “I’m glad we’re at the point we are,” said Jess from his Campbell home, who adds that a proper burial for Jeanine is what is most important to them. Although this picture was taken only days before Christmas, there was no tree or decorations on display to celebrate the holiday. “It’s sad,” said family friend Loretta Meyer. “Since she disappeared they don’t really feel it’s right to celebrate Christmas without her.”

The arrest comes after a painstaking 18-month examination of evidence found in suspect Maurice Nasmeh’s Jeep Cherokee that matches a rug from Harms’ home that had been discarded in a dumpster only half a mile from Nasmeh’s home.

Jeanine Harms, 42, was last seen in the company of 40-year-old architect Maurice Nasmeh on the night of Friday, July 27, 2001. After meeting Nasmeh at a Campbell restaurant and sharing a few drinks, she invited him and another acquaintance back to her Los Gatos home to continue partying. Nasmeh was the only one who followed Harms home that fateful night. The next day, Harms was supposed to call a girlfriend but never did. By Monday when she did not show up to work, her concerned family and friends called police. She has not been seen or heard from since and her body has never been recovered.

While the police quickly learned that Harms was in the company of two men that night, they didn’t have any evidence to connect one of them to her disappearance until a friend remembered several months later a photo of a Persian rug that was missing from Harms’ home. Using the media to get the word out, pictures of the rug were soon displayed on TV news and in newspapers throughout the area.

The big break in the case came when a woman who had found the rug near a dumpster near the Target store on Camden Avenue and taken it home saw the rug and contacted the police. This location is only half a mile from Maurice Nasmeh’s Cambrian-area home. The police took the rug to a crime lab for a painstaking 18-month analysis and eventually tied fibers on the rug to fibers found in Nasmeh’s Jeep Cherokee. The fibers found were from a latch hook rug kit that Harms had been working on.

The last family picture of the immediate Sanchez family was taken on the Thanksgiving before Jeanine was reported missing.

Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman announced the arrest of Nasmeh at a Dec. 16 press conference. According to Capt. David Gravel, Nasmeh did not show a lot of reaction to the early-morning arrest. “It did not come as a complete surprise because we’ve been doing investigative work with him all along.”

Nasmeh is being denied bail because he is considered a flight risk.

In an interview with the Times, Seaman said he was “thrilled” that the suspect was arrested and gave the credit to his department “for keeping their eye on the goal. They really deserve the [praise] for their efforts. This case has deeply affected every member of this police department.” He gives special credit to the lead detective on the case.

“Officer Steve Walpole, who at the time was a detective, gets a lot of credit for carrying this case through the first year. He didn’t have a lot of resources in the first year. When I came in around the first anniversary of Jeanine’s disappearance, I realized that there were elements of the case that should be pursued. Credit should also go to Sgt. Tim Morgan who had a passion for the case and lead the task force.”

In addition the police worked closely with the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office. Seaman describes District Attorney George Kennedy and Assistant District Attorney Karen Sinunu as “heroes” in the case and, Mike Schembri, DA investigator, as “a great on-the-ground investigator.”

Sinunu returns the praise. “We are very appreciative that Scott Seaman and the department didn’t ever want to let go of the case.”

But both factions give credit to the efforts of family and friends as having a positive outcome in the case. “I do think that the unusual thing about this case is that the family and friends kept the story alive in the media. And, the media helped us solve the case by showing the rug,” said Sinunu.

Maurice Nasmeh, 40, is a Cambrian resident who worked at a Campbell architecture firm.

“They do get a lot of credit for keeping this case in the media,” agrees Seaman. “Every once in a while a case captures the attention of a community and this case is one of them. My heart goes out to the family and friends for the three-and-a-half years they had to suffer. We are very grateful for their patience and confidence.”

One question in everyone’s mind is will Nasmeh be eligible for the death penalty in this case? The answer is no, according to Sinunu.

“Although he has been charged with murder, in California, we charge murder generically and the fact finder, either the judge or jury, sets the degree, such as murder in the first degree, etc.,” said Sinunu. “In order to ask for the death penalty there have to be special circumstances such as laying in wait, murder for financial gain or the murder of numerous victims. It appears that this is not the case here. The maximum sentence for a murder suspect without special circumstances is 25 years to life.”

This doesn’t seem to matter to the Sanchez family.

“We couldn’t care less about Maurice. We are glad he’s in jail and not out breathing fresh air like he has for the last three-and-a-half years and enjoying life while Jeanine can’t,” said Jeanine’s mother, Georgette Sanchez. “We want to find her and find out the circumstances of her death. A proper burial is all that’s important to us.”

Jeanine Harms, 42, was described as vivacious and outgoing.

The family and friends were overjoyed that an arrest had finally been made in the case.

“We have nothing but praise for Scott Siemen and his staff at the police department and for Karen Sinunu and the staff of the district attorney’s office,” said Georgette. “We all thought they weren’t doing anything because it was taking so long. But I called Karen [Sinunu] two weeks before the announcement and she said there would be an announcement in two weeks. And, exactly two weeks later she called to tell me they had arrested Nasmeh! I didn’t think they’d do anything until after the holidays. She is very competent and very kind.”

Nasmeh will be arraigned on Jan. 14 at which time he will enter a plea and name his council.

Jeanine’s close friend Loretta Meyer will be there. She has attended every march, anniversary and press conference often donning a T-shirt with Jeanine’s picture. “I want to see him in prison garbs. It’s such a relief for me to see him in jail. I hope he’s there for a very long time,” said Meyer. “I’m not looking forward to the emotional trauma of a trial but I’ll be there because I love Jeanine and miss her and I love her family. I want to be there for them.”

Seaman reminds the public that although a suspect has been arrested, “we’re not done with this case. We really need someone to come forward to help us find Jeanine. Somebody knows where she is and we are hoping they share that information.”

A tip line has been established, and any member of the public with information on this case is encouraged to call (408) 399-57331 or the Los Gatos Monte Sereno Police Department directly at (408) 354-8600.

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