For more than 10 years, police and prosecutors have been trying to unravel one of Silicon Valley's biggest murder mysteries -- the disappearance of Jeanine Harms.
On Wednesday, they held an elaborate news conference to name her killer. But he won't be going on trial. Maurice Nasmeh -- the prime suspect, all along -- is already dead.
The news surprised no one connected to the decadelong investigation, including Harms' grief-stricken friends and family. Nasmeh, killed this year by Harms' brother during a chance encounter, had been free since 2007 after questions arose about the lab expert who linked threads found in the back of Nasmeh's SUV to a Persian carpet that disappeared from Harms' apartment.
District Attorney Jeff Rosen insisted Wednesday a new lab's tests had provided all the answers he needed.
Rosen also highlighted what he said was Nasmeh's history of violence against women and that Nasmeh took all of the beer cans, empty and full, with him when he left Harms' duplex. That proved, he said, that Nasmeh "was determined to leave nothing behind that could incriminate him."
"The only logical and rational conclusion to be drawn from all the evidence is that Nasmeh murdered Ms. Sanchez-Harms," Rosen said.
Critics were quick to question why it had taken 3 ½ years to retest the fiber evidence -- at a cost of $400,000 -- especially because the testing revealed nothing new and two large boxes of evidence were not sent to a private lab in Illinois until Feb. 16, a month after Wayne Sanchez gunned down Nasmeh at a West San Jose shopping center in a stunning example of vigilante justice.
"The only thing they found was a few more fibers," said Peter Barnett, a partner with Forensic Science Associates in Richmond who was hired as a consultant by Nasmeh's attorney. "I'm no more convinced now than I was before."
Spanning three DAs
But during the Wednesday morning news conference, Rosen, who until his election as DA was one of the top prosecutors in the office, said he could convince a jury that Nasmeh was the killer. His office released a 48-page summary report from one of the top forensic labs in the nation that detailed the laborious analysis of the evidence.
Rosen said he regretted it took so long to retest the evidence, but insisted it was largely unavoidable. He had inherited the investigation from two previous DAs -- George Kennedy, who was in office when Nasmeh was charged, and Dolores Carr, the DA when Nasmeh was released.
Carr had hired Microtrace -- a private lab specializing in high-profile cases -- to retest the key fiber evidence. Just as the county's crime lab had found, Microtrace's founder and president, Skip Palenik, said 13 fibers found in the cargo area of Nasmeh's 2000 Jeep Cherokee were from the missing Persian rug from Harms' duplex and that 14 fibers found there were from a latch hook rug the 42-year-old woman had been working on. "These findings support the hypothesis that the Persian rug was placed in Nasmeh's Jeep's cargo area," the 48-page executive summary states.
A long case
Nasmeh was arrested in December 2004 and spent 2 ½ years in jail before the case fell apart. It was revealed during the preliminary hearing that criminalist Mark Moriyama had failed some certification tests required for his job.
Charges against Nasmeh were dismissed in June 2007. The prosecutor on the case at the time, Dale Sanderson, said it would take a year to retest the fibers and vowed to refile the charges.
When Rosen took office in January, he told this newspaper he was committed to applying fresh eyes to the case and seeking a resolution.
"I was very careful about this case and very thorough and deliberate in everything that was done since I became district attorney," he said. "That's reflective in the fact that after he was killed, I didn't just say, 'Now the investigation is over.' It was very important to me we completed the work."
Rosen said he felt strongly enough about the evidence against Nasmeh that he was closing the case.
Closure for the family and friends of Harms will be much harder. Her father declined to comment Wednesday but Janice Burnham, Harms' best friend, and Chigiy Binell, her former landlord and close friend, prepared a statement together:
"The DA's finding came as no surprise to us. The case may be closed but it feels like there may never be closure. This tragedy has spanned over 10 years and taken two beloved children from the Sanchez family. Nothing can bring Jeanine and Wayne back and we will miss them every day."
They and Los Gatos police Chief Scott Seaman made an appeal for the only information that matters to them now.
"I firmly believe someone does in fact know what happened to Jeanine," Seaman said. "If somebody came forward and told us where the body was, that would be extremely appreciated."
Dan Jensen, Nashmeh's former attorney, heard the news on a radio report Wednesday afternoon.
"If the evidence was so good, they should have filed it when they had the chance," he said. "It's really easy to slam a dead man."
History of violence
Jensen denied there was a "long history of violence" against women by Nasmeh, one of the factors Rosen said helped convince him Nasmeh killed Harms.
"That is such bull," Jensen said. "There were two instances, one reported by a third party. When they contacted the woman, she said it was an accident, that Nasmeh's dog jumped and bumped into her."
The other incident involved a former college roommate, said Jensen and Nasmeh's mother, Doris. "She said she was assaulted by him in the bathtub," the attorney said. But a private investigator hired by Nasmeh's mother proved "there was no bathtub in that house," Jensen said.
In an interview Wednesday evening, Rosen said, "We stand by everything written in our report 100 percent" but conceded the violence allegations likely wouldn't have made it before a jury.
"Maybe, maybe not," Rosen said. "If the judge kept it out, it wouldn't have been an unreasonable decision."
But Nasmeh's mother said prosecutors want to "close the case because he can't defend himself."
"I think this is a travesty of justice."
Contact Linda Goldston at 408-920-5862.