Twenty-seven year-old Nicholas Harris has never denied he was responsible for the death of Mark Henson on a quiet Turlock street in the early hours on Aug. 12, 2008.
However, he is claiming it was never his intention to kill the 25-year-old Turlock resident and therefore the Stanislaus County Superior Court jury hearing his case should find him guilty of manslaughter and not murder.
The decision now rests with the jury as both the prosecution and defense closed their cases Thursday afternoon.
Harris has been charged with murder for the fatal stabbing of Henson, along with an enhancement of using a deadly weapon. He is also charged with arson for setting Henson’s car on fire.
In the final days of testimony, Harris took the witness stand to explain his recollections and actions, though many of his answers to the prosecution’s questions indicated he had forgotten many of the details from the fatal encounter.
Harris told the jury that his plan was to torch Henson’s car as a message that he should stay away from Harris’ girlfriend. He said he was surprised to find Henson asleep in the car and that he changed his mind on burning it. He told the jury he saw a bag in the back of Henson’s car and that he was going to “borrow” it for a few days and then give it back to Henson as a message to stay away.
It was during his attempt to retrieve the bag from the back seat that Henson woke up, Harris stated. He recalled only vague details about the attack, such as swinging his knife, but did remember the fear he felt.
“I was scared for my life at the time,” Harris said. “I didn’t mean to stab him.”
Harris also testified that some of his actions that night were reflexes he developed from playing “Grand Theft Auto” and that he was in a state of mania, as part of a bipolar disorder.
Under cross-examination Deputy District Attorney Michael Houston grilled Harris on his recollection of feeling fear.
“If you were afraid he would wake up, why didn’t you just walk off?” Houston asked.
“I believe I was having a manic episode,” Harris replied.
“You had an opportunity to walk away and not wake him up, correct?” Houston asked.
“I believe so,” Harris said.
“So why didn’t you?” Houston followed-up.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Harris said.
Harris has repeatedly stated he saw Henson with a butterfly knife, though no evidence of one was found at the scene.
Harris testified he went around behind the car and picked up a towel he had brought and unhooked the sheath and pulled out his knife and then approached Henson on the driver’s side of the vehicle. On Wednesday Harris said he did this as a means to “de-escalate” the situation.
“I felt there was something I could do so that he wasn’t angry,” Harris said. “I felt there was something I could do to get out of it.”
“Do you think that walking up to a man with a knife is de-escalating the situation?” Houston asked.
“I wasn’t thinking,” Harris answered. “I was in a manic state. The whole thing was crazy.”
A few questions later, Houston returned to Harris’ idea of de-escalating.
“When you put the towel on his face, was that your attempt to de-escalate?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” Harris said.
“So what was the purpose of that?” Houston asked.
“I don’t know,” Harris answered.
Henson was able to get away from Harris and went running down Bennington Avenue yelling for help. He died just a short distance away on a resident’s porch from multiple stab wounds.
Harris admitted that he set the car on fire after Henson fled, but that he didn’t really remember the actions he took.
“I didn’t feel like I had control of my movements,” Harris said. “It was like watching a movie.”
Jury deliberations are expected to resume today.