DA to challenge
ruling in Los Gatos murder case
FORCES PROSECUTORS TO DISREGARD YARN FIBERS FOUND IN CAR
Determined to win a conviction in the mysterious disappearance of
a Los Gatos woman, prosecutors will fight a ruling by a Superior
Court judge that forces them to disregard crucial evidence in the
Jeanine Harms murder case.
Santa Clara County prosecutors today will ask the 6th District
Court of Appeal in San Jose to challenge Judge Linda Condron's
order, which barred fiber evidence found in the cargo area of
Maurice Xavier Nasmeh's car from being used at trial.
Some legal experts said prosecutors stand a chance of winning the
In her ruling last week, Condron said police went beyond the
scope of their search warrant when they seized Nasmeh's Jeep Grand
Cherokee in 2001, shortly after Harms, 42, went missing after
meeting him in a Campbell bar.
``We have great respect for Judge Condron, but we respectfully
disagree,'' said Chief Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu.
``It's our contention that the search was legal and we're going to
see if the appellate court agrees.''
Sinunu said her office will argue that Los Gatos police had the
right to impound the car because they had probable cause to believe
that it contained evidence of a crime and was used to dispose of
In the search, crime lab technicians extracted fibers that
authorities said connected Nasmeh to Harms' disappearance and
Some legal experts questioned Condron's ruling, saying it is
unusual. If police officers have cause to believe a car contains
evidence of a crime, they don't need a warrant with such specifics,
said Robert Weisberg, a Stanford University professor of criminal
``Very technically speaking, I can understand the judge's
argument that police were invited to look, and if the looking didn't
find what they wanted, they weren't authorized to seize the car. I
think she is being a little too literal. It does go against the
tide,'' he said, referring to the ruling.
Nasmeh's defense attorney, Dan Jensen of San Jose, said police
had no reason to seize the vehicle. The officer who conducted the
search, he said, testified that when he looked in the car ``he made
no observation of any kind that aroused his suspicions or indicated
the vehicle was used in the commission of a crime.''
Charles Weisselberg, a law professor at the University of
California-Berkeley's Boalt Hall and a practicing criminal attorney,
said he understands the need for the court to insist on exactness.
``The courts are rightly concerned when an officer asks for one
thing in a warrant affidavit and executes it in a different way,''
he said. ``It's hard to say if the judge is right or wrong
One common practice that Los Gatos police didn't follow was to
consult with a lawyer from the DA's office in preparing their search
warrant. There is no legal obligation to do so, it's just good
practice, especially if there could be a challenge, legal experts
said. Los Gatos Police Chief Scott Seaman couldn't be reached for
Nasmeh, a former Campbell architect, was arrested in December
2004 and has remained in Santa Clara County Jail without bail.
His attorney said he was not surprised by the district attorney's
challenge. ``I would expect them to do that,'' Jensen said. ``They
consider that a very important piece of their case. I don't.
``I was hoping it would be over,'' he added, ``but that was
probably wishful thinking.''
Harms' father, Jesus Sanchez, was reserved Thursday when asked
about the latest turn of events. ``We're going to wait until
everything goes through the DA's office,'' he said. ``We want to let
the DA answer all the questions concerning the case.''
Los Gatos police originally obtained a warrant to search Nasmeh's
vehicle, but then seized it for a crime lab to examine it, a move
not allowed by the warrant, Condron ruled. The car was kept for more
than three weeks, which she said was too long.
Had the officers needed more time, they could have asked for
court permission, Condron ruled. But ``inexplicably they failed to
seek a magistrate's approval for a lengthy, intensive seizure and
search'' of the car, she said.
The fibers taken from the cargo area of Nasmeh's vehicle,
authorities said, were from a yarn crafts project that Harms worked
on in her home. They also were found on a rug that disappeared when
she did and was later recovered. Police believe the rug was used to
dispose of her body.
Nasmeh, who had met Harms for the first time on the evening of
July 27, 2001, the date she disappeared, told police he left Harm's
duplex as she slept on her living room sofa. He was the last person
known to have seen her alive.
Harms' disappearance captured national attention and was featured
on a television true-crime show, ``America's Most Wanted.''
The key break in the case came in July of 2003 when Harms' rug
suddenly turned up. A woman who saw a news report about the missing
rug called police, saying she had found it two years earlier next to
a shopping center dumpster.