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Posted on Sun, Jan. 16, 2005

Suspect in slaying adjusting to jail




Mercury News

Slaying suspect Maurice Nasmeh has apparently settled into the daily routine at Santa Clara County's Main Jail in downtown San Jose, spending 22 hours in his one-man cell reading and writing letters to friends and relatives.

He spends the other two hours doing some sort of exercise, either alone or with a small group of other high-security inmates, said his lawyer, Richard Pointer of San Jose. Or he can watch TV in a community room outside his cell during the two hours.

``His mind is strong and positive and he understands that it will probably be two to three years before his case comes to trial,'' Pointer said. ``He is in a much better state of mind than when he was first arrested. He was very emotionally distraught then.''

Nasmeh, who appeared briefly in court Friday, is in custody without bail. He had been expected to enter a plea in the murder case of 42-year-old Jeanine Harms of Los Gatos, who disappeared in July 2001, after a late-night date with Nasmeh. He was shackled and wore the red jail-issue jumpsuit of a murder defendant.

He did not enter a plea and is considering a change in defense attorneys, Pointer told the court. But Pointer, outside the court, said Nasmeh plans to plead not guilty.

Nasmeh, 40, is talking with high-profile attorney Tony Serra, the colorful, pony-tailed lawyer from San Francisco, to see whether he'll take over the case.

Nasmeh's mother, who lives in the San Jose area, is his most regular visitor. Friends from his job at the Sugimura & Associates architecture firm in Campbell, also visit. But a brother who lives in San Jose and sister who lives outside the area have not, Pointer said.

Pointer said he does not know whether Nasmeh has resigned from his job. ``He is talking with his employer about that and dealing with how to handle the assignments he was working on.''

The lawyer said Nasmeh is trying to hold onto the home he owns in South San Jose and so far has not borrowed against it to pay attorneys.

On Friday, Pointer made a special request to Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Jerome Nadler to allow Nasmeh to wear regular street clothes, not a jail jumpsuit, to his Feb. 18 plea hearing. Pointer said that, because of the high-profile nature of the case and intense media coverage, Nasmeh would make a better impression in a suit. Nadler said he would take that under submission.

``He has already received a great deal of media coverage. His appearance is a significant thing,'' Pointer told the judge. ``It's a reasonable request and it will not be a burden on the Department of Corrections.''

The request is a little unusual for a defendant's plea entry.

``There's no reason for it,'' prosecutor Dale Sanderson said. ``And it doesn't change the case.''

Jeanine Harms' brother, Craig Sanchez, who was in court Friday along with a group of Harms' close friends, also said he didn't think it would make a difference. ``You can put a pig in a suit and it's still a pig.''

Police believe Nasmeh was the last person to see Harms before she disappeared on that warm July night more than three years ago. She and the unmarried architect had been on a late-night date, and he told police that when he left her home she was asleep on the sofa. The two met earlier that evening at a Campbell restaurant. Her remains have not been found.

Police investigators connected Nasmeh to the crime through fibers from a yarn crafts project of Harms' that were found inside the cargo area of Nasmeh's sport-utility vehicle.

Nasmeh was arrested Dec. 16 as he left home for work.


Contact Connie Skipitares at cskipitares@mercurynews.com or (408) 920-5647.

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