August 31, 2005     Los Gatos, California Since 1881
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Harms murder case finally goes to court
By Jennifer McLain
After 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," Sanderson said.

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 News.

"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 dumpster.

"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.

Dr. Steven Cohen, Dentist

El Camino Hospital

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