Using a mist of big words, the investigators in the Jeanine Harms
case explained last week how they peered into trash bins, pawed
through a vacuum bag and examined hundreds of the kind of tiny
fibers that stand as accusers in the absence of a body.
But for all the vaunted science, you got only glimpses of the
humanity at the core of a hearing to determine whether Maurice
Xavier Nasmeh, a 40-year-old San Jose architect, should be tried for
You've probably heard the basics: The 42-year-old Los Gatos woman
disappeared after going to a Campbell bar on the night of July 27,
2001. She met a couple of men that night. After a long
investigation, police arrested one of them, Nasmeh, on the basis of
fibers found in the back of his Jeep. The fibers were similar to
those from a Persian rug in Harms' home and a latch hook rug she had
been working on.
The cops got lucky. Two years ago, they released a picture of a
62-by-92-inch Persian rug missing from Harms' home, which they
theorized had been used to dispose of her body.
Unbelievably, a San Jose woman, Charlotte Massey, recognized it
in the newspaper as one she fished from a dumpster near Hillsdale
and Camden avenues two years before. The Persian rug contained both
its natural woolen fibers and deposited acrylic fibers. Friends said
Harms liked to sit on the rug while she did her latch hook work.
All that makes it Santa Clara County's premiere ``CSI''-style
case. Prosecutor Dale Sanderson unveiled a 3-by-7-foot spreadsheet
summarizing the fiber evidence.
Yet Jeanine Harms remains elusive in these hearings. A few clues
came from a neighbor, Earl Boucher, who met her with his wife the
night before she disappeared. She loved dogs. She was social. She
liked a drink called the lemon drop. And her refrigerator was nearly
empty, save for yogurt.
Maurice Nasmeh is equally elusive. A stocky man with a
close-shaved head, bald on top, he sits at the defense table,
writing furiously, occasionally exchanging words with lead defense
attorney Dan Jensen.
The key figure is probably Mark Moriyama, a 19-year veteran of
the county's crime lab, who estimated that he spent at least 2,000
hours -- a full year -- examining fibers.
Latch hook clue
In November 2002, Moriyama came up with an important clue: He
traced acrylic fibers found in the back of Nasmeh's Jeep Cherokee to
a chemical company, Solutia, which made them for latch hook
Moriyama wrote an e-mail to Los Gatos police, saying they should
be on the lookout for a latch hook rug. But it wasn't until May
2003, after another reminder, that Harms' latch hook rug was
delivered to the crime lab. (The Los Gatos police have not come off
unscathed in testimony.)
Not surprisingly, the defense has shown deep interest in the
other man Harms saw that night. And defense attorney William Welch
scored a point late Friday when he got Moriyama to admit he had been
taken off regular case work after doing poorly on a proficiency test
early this year.
This is a case that will be determined on the science -- on
whether the Jeep contained the acrylic fibers from Harms' latch hook
rug, or whether the Persian rug saved from the dumpster contained a
gray nylon fiber from the Jeep.
But humanity lingers behind science like the unfitted pieces in a
jigsaw puzzle. What's maddening is that we might think we know
what happened. The why baffles us as much as the
disappearance of her body.
See a copy of the fiber evidence chart.