Witness talks of ring defendant showed her after murder | NevadaAppeal.com
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Witness talks of ring defendant showed her after murder

by F.T. Norton
Appeal Staff Writer

A man on trial for murder showed off a ring possibly belonging to the 18-year-old victim days after the girl’s battered body was found in 1982, a witness testified Wednesday.

Patricia Brasier, former manager of the apartment complex, said groundskeeper David Winfield Mitchell showed her a ring he had with him on Jan. 8, 1982, just two days after Sheila Josephine Harris’ body was found in her bed inside her Lompa Lane apartment.

Brasier said the presentation by Mitchell came without an explanation.

“I thought it was kind of odd,” she said.

Testimony on Tuesday by Harris’ mother was that a ring belonging to her daughter was never found. The ring’s description, however, was not offered then.

On cross examination, Defense Attorney Diane Crow asked Brasier if she had noted the ring in her report to police.

Brasier said she had not, “But I told investigators about that ring,” she insisted.

Brasier went on to describe Mitchell, now 62, as a good worker who left Nevada shortly after the killing, saying he had a “family emergency,” in New York. She also said spare keys to apartments were kept on a peg board at first, and then later in a lockbox to which Mitchell did not have a key. When pressed by Crow on whether the keys were in a lockbox or on a peg board during Mitchell’s tenure, Brasier said she couldn’t recall.

Investigators believe because there was no sign of forced entry, Mitchell entered Harris’ ground-floor apartment with a pass key and beat, sexually assaulted and strangled the community college student.

Dr. William Diamond, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Harris, said the deep bruises and marks on her neck showed that she was strangled from behind with a ligature possibly made of electrical cord.

He said sperm was on the back of Harris’ nightgown and panties and in swabs taken from her body. According to the prosecution, a DNA test in 1999 that compared the swabs to Mitchell’s blood came back as a match. Following the DNA results, an arrest warrant was issued against Mitchell nearly 20 years after the killing and the Trinidad native was extradited to the U.S. from the West Indies island in October.

Diamond said bruising and swelling on the left side of Harris’ face and evidence of “multiple hits” happened from a “traumatic episode,” likely within a half hour of her death.

He said it appeared she was struck from behind with some type of wooden object that splintered and she had her hands bound behind her back for “some period of time.” Neither the wooden weapon, nor ligature were found at the scene.

Diamond also interpreted the marks and bruising on Harris’ neck not only indicated she was strangled, but that she struggled against the ligature applied with “significant force.”

“This was with intent,” he said of the amount of force needed to leave such bruising. “This was not an accident.”

During questioning by the defense, Diamond said the sperm evidence did not indicate when it was left there.

“Sperm can still be intact up to five days,” he said.

“Up to a week?,” Crow asked.

“Yes,” said Diamond.

Crow also asked if the marks on Harris’ wrists could come from being held down and not tied.

Diamond said he didn’t see how that could happen.

When Crow noted that there were no defensive wounds on Harris’ hands and forearms, the pathologist offered an explanation.

“If her hands were tied behind her back you can’t have defensive wounds,” he said.

Wednesday morning, the former crime scene technician for the Carson City Sheriff’s Department, Dan Nuckolls, took the stand and showed the jury items removed from Harris’ apartment such as her nightgown, a floral patterned robe, a portion of drywall that had a hole in it, and a Charlie Brown trash can from the bathroom in which someone had placed splinters believed to have come from the weapon used to beat her.

Defense Attorney Paul Giese’s cross was contentious.

He grilled Nuckolls on technique, asking if officers covered their shoes to prevent carrying in contaminants, if the contents of the apartment’s drains traps had been taken for analysis, if the floors were looked at closely and vacuumed for later examination. Nuckolls could not say any of those things were done.

At times, the now-retired crime tech fumed openly at the attorney’s questions, designed to highlight perceived errors in the evidence collection.

“You want me to say there’s a whole bunch of people in there and I’m not going to say that,” Nuckolls snapped.

Testimony continues today.

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