Opening statements today in 1982 murder trial
Appeal Staff Writer
Opening statements are set to begin this morning in the murder trial of David Winfield Mitchell, a Trinidad native accused in the 1982 strangulation death of Gardnerville teen Sheila Josephine Harris.
Mitchell, 62, has been in custody since his extradition from Trinidad in October, charged with open murder with the use of a deadly weapon.
Harris, 18, was found dead in her new apartment at Long Street and Lompa Lane on Jan. 6, 1982. An autopsy revealed she’d had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled.
Mitchell, a handyman at the complex where Harris lived, was arrested in the early stages of the investigation, but was released because of a lack of evidence.
In 1999, DNA testing done on bodily fluids found on Harris’s body and clothing came back as a match to Mitchell, who had since returned to his native Trinidad, a Caribbean island nation.
About 50 prospective jurors were questioned for nearly three hours Monday by the judge, prosecution and defense until the field was narrowed down to eight men, four women and two male alternates. Among the jurors are two people who have sat on a jury before, a state worker, a business owner, a single father and a mechanic.
Before the jury will enter the courtroom this morning, the prosecution will argue to Judge Todd Russell that jurors should be able to hear testimony concerning Mitchell’s “prior bad acts.” He served time in prison in the 1970s for binding and sexually assaulting two women. Investigators believe the details in the Harris murder are similar to that of the previous sexual assault cases.
Assistant District Attorney Gerald Gardner expected to put the previous victims on the stand today, but Russell seemed resistant.
In addition to the two victims, Gardner and District Attorney Neil Rombardo, showed jurors a list of 17 other witnesses they expect to call. Amid the crime technicians, detectives and Harris’ family, the prosecution is prepared to call Mitchell’s ex-wife, who lived with him at the apartment complex at the time of Harris’ murder and offered an alibi for his whereabouts.
The trial is expected to take two weeks.
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.