Prosecution rests in Reno murder, rape case
Associated Press Writer
RENO – The ex-girlfriend of a Nevada man standing trial in the killing of a college coed and sexual assaults of two other young women said Monday she watched from her office window the day victim Brianna Denison’s body was found in a field outside her workplace.
Carleen Harmon also testified that defendant James Biela told her the only reason anyone cared about the case was because the 19-year-old Denison was “hot” and came from a wealthy family.
The prosecution rested its case Monday in Washoe District Court after more than two hours of emotional testimony by Harmon, who lived with Biela and is the mother of his son.
Prosecutors contend Biela is a serial rapist who was motivated in part by a fetish for women’s thong underwear and eventually graduated to murder in a string of attacks in 2008.
Harmon said she had followed the case closely from the time Denison was kidnapped that January from a friend’s home on the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
“I read everything that came out about it,” she testified on the 11th day of the trial. “It was scary.”
Harmon said she even discussed the case with Biela in the months before the 28-year-old Sparks pipe fitter and ex-Marine was charged with Denison’s kidnapping, murder and sexual assault and with sexually assaulting two other women in the same area just north of the downtown casino district.
“I can remember one specific time I was reading to him information about the case while I was on my laptop in our bedroom. He was always quiet,” Harmon said.
“The only comment he ever made that stands out in my mind was that if (Denison) wasn’t hot, nobody would care. That that’s the reason they cared. And that her parents had money and there were other people getting raped and nobody talks about those,” she said.
Harmon was working in human resources at a pension company in south Reno when Denison’s body was found in a field beneath a discarded Christmas tree on Feb. 15, 2008.
“I was looking out the window and I could see all the yellow tape,” she said.
She said she called Biela on his cell phone at work while it was happening.
“I told him the police were there, and I had a weird feeling they found Brianna’s body,” Harmon recalled. “He was completely silent.”
Harmon said she later became enraged when she found two pairs of women’s thong underwear in Biela’s truck. But she said she didn’t suspect he was involved in Denison’s death until his arrest, which was made possible in part because she allowed detectives to take DNA samples from their son to help connect Biela to the crime scene.
Harmon said she still thought Biela was innocent when she met with him at the county jail the evening of his arrest. Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler asked if she still believed that, but Biela’s lawyers objected and Judge Robert Perry stopped her from answering.
Earlier in the day, Harmon wiped away tears while testifying that the couple started having daily arguments, and Biela often would leave their home for days in October 2007.
“He was really short-fused and angry and had no patience for anybody,” she said. “December is when it really, really was bad.”
Harmon took the witness stand after the judge issued an order forbidding any photographs, videotaping or use of her voice without mechanically altering it out of concern for the safety of Harmon and her children.
Biela has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. If convicted of murder, he could face the death penalty.
The defense began calling witnesses late Monday. The jury was expected to begin deliberations before the end of the week.