hours, months and years of painstaking investigations,
the murder case of former Los Gatos resident Jeanine
Harms is one step closer to being closed.
On Aug. 29, in the Santa Clara County Superior Court,
the preliminary hearing began in the case of Maurice
Nasmeh, a Campbell resident accused of killing Harms,
who disappeared in July 2001. Police say Nasmeh is the
last person to have seen Harms alive after a night of
drinking with friends in Campbell.
The court, however, will not start taking evidence
until Sept. 1, said Dale Sanderson, deputy district
attorney for Santa Clara County.
At the preliminary hearing, the prosecution must
provide a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been
committed if it wants to see Nasmeh go to trial. The
defense, however, will need to prove that there is not
enough reasonable and substantial evidence to link
Nasmeh to the crime.
"A preliminary hearing is a probable cause hearing,"
If the judge finds enough evidence to go to trial,
Sanderson said that it will begin within 10 to 15 days
after the hearing, which should last about five days.
The case comes after a grueling investigation with
few leads and many dead ends.
Los Gatos-Monte Sereno police officer Stephen Walpole
worked on the Harms case as a detective. He said that
after months of working on the case, investigators
finally got the break they needed when the victim's
friend, whose mother had died a few months prior, found
a photograph of a Persian rug, which went missing the
night of her disappearance.
"The last photo on her dead mother's camera is a
picture of the rug. It was bizarre," Walpole said.
So, the friend told the department about the photo;
it publicized the photo in the San Jose Mercury
"It was bizarre. Not only was it weird to get the
photo like that, but we had this lady who read the paper
that day call us and recognize the rug," Walpole said.
It turned out to be the one missing from Harms' home.
He also thought it was unbelievable that the woman
who found the rug, which was found in a dumpster about a
half-mile away from Nasmeh's house in Campbell, never
got the rug cleaned.
"She just put it in her house. She told us, 'Yeah, I
didn't bother to have it cleaned. I just vacuumed it
every once in a while,' " he said.
After about 18 months of testing, a Santa Clara
County forensics expert linked fibers found on the rug
with fibers found in the back of Nasmeh's Jeep.
Investigators, friends and community members were
surprised at the discovery.
"It was encouraging because there were so many times
over the past four years that I thought it would be put
in the cold case files, so the fact that they made an
arrest was beyond my expectations," Janice Burnham, a
longtime friend of Harms, said.
At the hearing and the trial, Burnham hopes to have
many of her questions answered.
"In terms of the whole investigation, the police
could never disclose their investigations. There's just
been a lot of rumors. It would be a way to get
everything straight," she said.
She does not expect, however, any closure from this
hearing--largely because there still is not a body.
Walpole said that investigators checked about 18
locations, most of them in the Santa Cruz Mountains,
with cadaver dogs. They also checked Lexington Reservoir
and Vasona Lake.
Walpole, however, thinks the body was in the
"I wish I could go back in time and find out what was
actually in the dumpster," Walpole said.
He said investigators considered going to the dump,
but eventually decided it was not an option because it
would be costly--about $60 million--and time consuming.
Nasmeh has pleaded not guilty to the slaying. He was
arrested Dec. 16, and remains in custody at Santa Clara
County Jail without bail. San Francisco defense attorney
Tony Serra is representing him.
"This is not a death penalty case. It is not even a
capital case," Sanderson said.
For longtime friend Burnham, capital punishment is
not her biggest concern.
"The main thing I want to know is what happened to
Janine and to hold somebody accountable," Burnham said.