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Jury ponders over sanity case
Harris Nicholas
Nicholas Harris

A Stanislaus County jury continues to deliberate on whether or not a Turlock man convicted of murder was sane or insane when he stabbed a man to death.

The jury in the sanity phase for Nicholas Harris spent all day Tuesday in deliberations without returning a verdict. The jury will return today to resume deliberations.

The same jury already previously convicted Harris of second-degree murder for the death of Mark Henson on Aug. 12, 2008. They also found him guilty of arson for setting Henson’s car on fire and an enhancement for using a deadly weapon.

Harris has entered a not guilty by reason of insanity plea. He testified he thought his girlfriend was being harassed by Henson and was trying to send him a message by setting his car on fire.

Harris found Henson’s car parked in the area of Salem Way and Bennington Avenue. Harris admits he initially planned to slash Henson’s tires, but changed his mind and decided to set it on fire when he saw the windows were partially rolled down.

Harris returned to the car with a kitty litter container that held gasoline, a tire iron, a jack, a towel, and a knife.

Harris said he changed his mind about setting the car on fire when he saw Henson asleep in the driver’s seat. He testified on the stand that he saw a bag in the back seat of the car and decided that he was going to “borrow” it for a few days and then give it back to Henson as a message to stay away.

The attempt to take the bag woke Henson, which sparked a brief confrontation between the two men, resulting in Henson being stabbed multiple times. Henson was eventually able to break free and ran for help. He died on the front porch of a nearby home.

Harris admitted that he set the vehicle on fire after Henson ran for help.

The defense has argued that Harris is bipolar and because of that he was in a manic state that rendered him incapable of understanding that the stabbing was wrong.

To prove insanity, the defense has to first convince the jury the defendant had a mental disease, defect or disorder. Then they have to prove that more likely than not the mental disorder rendered the defendant incapable of understanding the nature of his actions and that they were morally and legally wrong.

Three psychologists were called to testify in the case. Phil Trompetter testified that in his opinion Harris showed all the signs and symptoms of having bipolar one, but stopped short of stating he was insane when he Henson was stabbed. Phillip Hamm and Jocelyn Roland both testified they found no evidence Harris is bipolar and believed he knew what he was doing was morally wrong and illegal at the time of the offense.