Hope for justice comes for victim’s family after 24 years
Nevada Appeal News Service
GARDNERVILLE – For 24 years, Linda Bratton has been awaiting justice in the murder of her 18-year-old daughter Sheila Harris.
That day came closer Friday when Carson City officials announced that David Winfield Mitchell, 60, had been arrested in Trinidad and charged with the 1982 murder. Carson City authorities expect Mitchell to be extradited to Nevada in the next few weeks.
Sheila Harris had moved into her east Carson City apartment just five days before she was found sexually assaulted, beaten, and strangled on Jan. 6, 1982.
Mitchell was the building maintenance man.
“This is what I have worked for all these years, what my goal has been, what my focus has been,” Bratton said. “I am gratified for the fact the arrest has been made. I guess there finally will be closure.”
Sheila Harris would be 42.
“I don’t think about that part as much as her sisters probably do,” Bratton said. “I know I would have grandchildren.”
Her sisters Shannon and Jamie were 7 and 6 months old when Sheila Harris died.
Shannon Harris, now 32, has a 6-year-old daughter, Madison, whom Bratton calls “the light of my life.”
Bratton, a Gardnerville resident, said Sheila Harris is never far from the family’s thoughts and conversations.
“We talk about Sheila daily,” Linda Bratton said. “All our pictures are out together like they’ve always been.”
Bratton said even though her girls were 12 years apart in age, they were close.
“She always took Shannon places and took care of her. She was very, very loving,” Bratton said.
Shannon Harris said she has vivid memories of her sister.
“I have memories that are my own and some that people tell me about. Pictures bring back a lot of memories,” she said.
Harris smiled as she recalled the Christmas that Sheila woke her to show her the pony that awaited her outside.
“I have moments of joy and moments of sadness,” Shannon Harris said. “I try to take it day by day. I don’t know what to expect.”
Linda Bratton said her oldest daughter rarely went out on weekends.
“She had to be home earlier than her friends, and she was ashamed to tell them,” Bratton laughed.
“Sheila never gave me one moment of heartache. She was light-hearted and always smiling.”
She moved from Gardnerville to Carson City to attend Western Nevada Community College and work at Raley’s supermarket.
She stayed with her family through the holidays, and she and her mother spent weeks fixing up the apartment.
“She and I went in there for three weeks, cleaning, and putting extra locks on the doors so she would be safe,” her mother said. “She was so excited.”
Harris, a Douglas High School graduate, was named Miss Douglas County in 1981. Another reason she moved to Carson City was to compete in that community’s Miss Nevada pageant in 1982.
But she was much more than a beauty queen, her mother said.
“I always hated that she was always referred to as ‘beauty queen,'” Bratton said. “She had a name – Sheila Harris. She was a wonderful daughter and sister.”
Bratton said her daughter had talked about attending Heald Business College in California.
“I don’t think she knew yet what she wanted to do. She was just starting to spread her wings,” Bratton said.
Since the arrest was announced late last week, Bratton said she’s received many telephone calls of encouragement.
“Everyone is compassionate and happy for us,” she said.
Bratton said there were times she became discouraged, “but I guess that made me more determined than ever.”
In addition to Carson City law enforcement, Bratton singled out former Douglas County sheriff’s officers Bernie Curtis and Stan Lamb, and retired Carson City detective Ed Heddy as being instrumental in keeping the case alive.
“I would say there are two forms of justice, and one is finally being served,” she said. “The second comes in the hereafter.”
The renewed focus will force her to relive the tragedy of her daughter’s death, but Bratton and her daughters are prepared.
“It’s going to be hard, but it doesn’t matter,” she said. “After what we’ve been through, we can do this standing on our heads.”