Suspect in 1982 murder arrested
Appeal Staff Writer
Twenty-four years after teenage beauty queen Sheila Harris was found slain in her east Carson City apartment, the complex’s former handyman was arrested on the Caribbean Island of Trinidad on a warrant charging him with her murder.
David Winfield Mitchell, 60, made his first court appearance in Trinidad on Friday. He is scheduled for another court hearing Wednesday, said District Attorney Noel Waters.
In 1982, Harris, 18, was found dead in her apartment at Long Street and Lompa Lane. An autopsy revealed Harris had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled.
An old boyfriend, and Mitchell, a maintenance man at Harris’ apartment complex, were both suspects, but investigators were unable to find physical evidence linking them to the crime.
Investigators even went so far as to track Mitchell to New York where he’d moved with his family. There, they obtained a DNA sample.
In 1999, Lt. Bob White was a detective with the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, and he asked officials to allow him to review cold cases.
About the same time, Harris’ mother Linda Bratton contacted the detective division and asked if evidence in the case could be submitted for DNA testing.
“It was eerie. She came in the same week I began to review the case,” White recalled Friday after learning Mitchell was in custody.
White said that in July 1999 the Washoe County Crime lab processed all the evidence with technology that was not available 18 years earlier. Among the evidence was DNA found on Harris’ body and underclothing.
“Comparison of the DNA profiles obtained from the physical evidence and the known samples obtained from David Winfield Mitchell revealed Mitchell is the source of the DNA from the sperm fraction obtained,” the affidavit in support of the federal arrest warrant reads.
In 1982, Mitchell, who was in the country illegally, was deported from New York to Trinidad.
Waters said that when the results of the DNA testing came back in 2000, Mitchell’s whereabouts were unknown. In 2003, Carson City investigators tracked down Mitchell’s ex-wife in Hawthorne. She said she last had contact with Mitchell in 2000 in Trinidad.
In January 2005, at the request of Carson City authorities, Interpol found Mitchell living in the Mount Hope area of Trinidad and working as a night watchman at the Ministry of Works.
In January 2006, a murder complaint charging Mitchell with open murder with the use of a deadly weapon was filed in Carson City Justice Court.
No date has been set for Mitchell’s return to the U.S.
“My family has worked and prayed for this for 24 years. Thank goodness justice is finally going to be served,” said Sheila’s mother Linda Bratton, her voice choked with emotion. Bratton was driving to Topaz Lake for dinner with friends when she got the news.
“I just talked to Sheila on the way down, and said, ‘We did it baby, we did it.'”
• Contact reporter F.T. Norton at email@example.com or 881-1213.