A Stanislaus County jury has rendered a guilty verdict of murder against Nicholas Harris for the death of Mark Henson.
The jury of nine women and three men found Harris guilty of second-degree murder along with the enhancement he used a deadly weapon. They also found him guilty of arson.
Harris was charged with murder for the 2008 stabbing of Henson on Bennington Avenue in Turlock. The Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office alleged Harris went after Henson because he believed Henson was harassing his girlfriend.
Vanessa Bartlett, Harris’ girlfriend at the time of the murder, testified she and Henson briefly dated, but that it had ended well before she started seeing Harris. She stated in the three weeks prior to Henson’s death, she had seen him three times when he came into her work to order sandwiches. She testified their conversations were never more than small talk and that she did not feel threatened by him. She also testified she told Harris about the encounters and could tell it irritated him.
Harris testified it was never his intention to kill Henson. He stated he planned to set Henson’s car on fire and leave a sandwich or a slice of bread as a message that he should stay away from Bartlett. He testified his plan went awry when he found Henson sleeping in his car.
The defense had maintained that Harris only stabbed Henson because Henson was armed with a butterfly knife and Harris was in fear for his life.
There was no evidence of a butterfly knife found in the car, nor in the area where Henson died.
The defense had been hoping for a guilty verdict of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter.
Now that a verdict has been reached, the case will move into its second phase, in which the same jury will be tasked with determining if Harris was sane or not at the time of the killing.
Harris testified during the trial that he is bi-polar and that he was in a manic state when he repeatedly stabbed Henson and then set his car on fire.
If the jury decides Harris was sane, he could be facing a possible 15 years to life sentence, plus a year for the enhancement and additional time for the arson conviction.
If the jury finds that Harris was not sane at the time, he could be remanded to a state mental hospital for an undetermined amount of time.
Harris has been in custody since his arrest in August 2008, a day after Henson was killed.
The second phase of the trial, which will include witness testimony, is slated to begin July 8.