Deliberations resume this morning in murder trial
Appeal Staff Writer
Deliberations will continue this morning after jurors were unable to reach a verdict Monday night in the murder case of David Winfield Mitchell.
Mitchell, now 62, is accused in the strangulation death of Sheila Jo Harris, 18, more than 25 years ago.
Harris’ body was discovered in her Lompa Lane apartment on Jan. 6, 1982.
At about 6 p.m. the four-woman, eight-man jury began deliberations following closing arguments and testimony from just two defense witnesses. The jurors deliberated until 9 p.m.
In both openings and closing, Public Defender Diane Crow, pointed at Harris’ former boyfriend, Steven Furlong, as the most obvious suspect in Harris’ death. Furlong, brother to current Sheriff Kenny Furlong, was arrested a month after Harris’ death on a lewdness charge and hanged himself in jail.
Crow said an injury Furlong suffered in the U.S. Navy left him with psychomotor epilepsy and prone to hallucinations and blackouts. She said that on the morning Harris’ body was found, Furlong soaked off a cast he had on his arm. She also noted that Harris’ alarm clock was set for 2:40 a.m.
“Sheila Jo Harris opens the door and allows a visitor in. There was no forced entry into that apartment. Sheila wouldn’t have opened the door to a stranger in the middle of the night. There was no sign of a struggle anywhere but in the bedroom. Did she know her attacker? Was she even expecting him to come?” asked Crow. “Steve Furlong committed suicide in the Washoe County Jail. Was it from guilt for the murder?”
Crow told the jurors that they should consider the credibility of the witnesses, most specifically former complex manager Patricia Brasier, who testified that Mitchell showed her a red-stone ring two days after Harris’ murder. A ruby ring was reportedly missing from Harris’ belongings.
“She said she remembers Mr. Mitchell showing her a ring. I asked her how come we’ve never heard of that until 25 years later and she said she told detectives about it,” said Crow. “Ed Heddy and Bob White, subsequent investigators to this case, said they reviewed all of the documents. There was nothing from Patricia Brasier telling anyone about a ring until she took the stand.”
In closing, District Attorney Neil Rombardo first addressed Furlong’s alleged involvement.
“Lets talk about Steve Furlong. There’s not one piece of physical evidence that he ever stepped foot into that room, let alone, murdered Sheila. However, if you want to believe that theory, here’s what you have to believe; that with a cast on one arm, and some type of episode due to his injury … he somehow has the presence of mind to put on a glove, cover the fingertips on the other hand, because there were no fingerprints found inside the room. He then has the presence of mind to come in with a board and hit Sheila, again with one only arm. Then somehow take some type of ligature, and somehow this man with one arm, was able to take her arms, hold them behind her back.
“Not only that, he then takes a wire that he brings with him – so again, in this fit, this seizure, this rage, he had the ability to think of all this ahead of time – and wraps it around her neck twice. Does anybody really think this is what happened?”
Rombardo then went on to talk about the DNA evidence and that the probability is one in 500 billion that the semen found on Harris was from someone other than Mitchell. He noted the population of the earth is 6 billion.
“To the exclusion of all other human beings, Mr. Mitchell’s sperm was found inside Sheila Jo Harris.”
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.