Ring description comes up again in murder trial | NevadaAppeal.com

Ring description comes up again in murder trial

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

A ruby and diamond cocktail ring that was missing from the home of a 1982 murder victim may tie a Trinidad man to the woman he is accused of killing.

Robert Scott Chiari testified on Friday that he had given his one-time girlfriend, Sheila Jo Harris, the $250 ring in 1981, about a year before she was found slain in her Lompa Lane apartment.

Chiari’s description matched testimony from earlier in the week saying defendant David Winfield Mitchell allegedly showed off a “red stone” woman’s ring with diamonds two days after Harris’ body was found.

Mitchell, now 62, was the groundskeeper of the complex in which Harris had lived. According to court records, a review of cold cases in 1999 resulted in DNA comparison of Mitchell’s blood to semen found at the scene and it was a match.

Chiari, now living in Sacramento, said he’d dated Harris “off and on” since 1978 and had planned to spend the night with her on Jan. 5, 1982, but a snowstorm and car trouble had prevented him from making it down from Kingsbury Grade where he lived.

He said he and Harris had talked on the phone until 10:30 p.m. The following day she was found beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled to death on her bed.

Chiari said when he’d helped Harris set up her apartment, she’d pointed to a “black man” standing by the Dumpsters outside her kitchen window and said, “See that man. He stares at me all the time. He gives me the creeps.”

Chiari was not able to identify if Mitchell was that man or not.

Also on Friday, former Carson City Sheriff’s Detective Scott Burau testified that during an interview with Mitchell shortly after the murder, investigators got the impression “he was hiding something.

“He went back and forth from ‘I never saw her’ to ‘The only time I saw her was when I changed the nameplate on her door,'” Burau said.

He said Mitchell knew which car belonged to Harris and where she parked, but never admitted to knowing the recent high school graduate who’d rented her apartment in December, but only lived there for about a week before her death.

Also on Friday, a criminalist who’d made the DNA match in 1999 testified that only Mitchell’s DNA was present in semen taken from Harris’ body, panties and nightgown.

Jeffrey Riolo, with the Washoe County Crime Lab, said testing excluded Harris’ DNA and her former boyfriend, Steven Furlong, whom the defense has suggested is a more likely suspect.

But notes on testing done on the semen stains in 1982 before DNA, may have buoyed a suspected defense that any contact between Mitchell and Harris was consensual and happened days before her death. Criminalist Richard Berger had written in his report after examination of the semen stains that “the amount of semen on the sample is not sufficient to indicate recent intercourse.”

Berger said in retrospect he would not have written that and left any conclusions up to others.

“But at the time your conclusion was that it had been a significant amount of time,” that the semen had been there, Chief Trial Public Defender Paul Giese said.

“That was the only conclusion I put in my report,” Berger hesitantly responded.

Testimony will resume next week.

• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at ftnorton@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1213.