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Jury starts deliberating on Turlock defendants sanity
Harris Nicholas
Nicholas Harris

The decision on whether or not a Turlock man was insane when he stabbed a 25-year-old man repeatedly and caused his death, is now in the hands of a Stanislaus County jury.

The same jury already previously convicted Nicholas 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 believed his girlfriend was being harassed by Henson after he learned they had run into each other on a few occasions.

“His altered mind had him believing Vanessa was in jeopardy from Mr. Henson,” Harris’ defense attorney Steven O’Connor told the jury in his closing argument.

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.

“He didn’t know the meaning of what he was doing,” O’Connor said. “He didn’t know it was wrong.”

O’Connor pointed to the videotaped confession between Harris and Turlock Police Detective Jason Tosta as evidence of Harris’ altered thinking.

“He thought the killing was self-defense and the arson something minor and that he could clear it up by talking with him man to man,” O’Connor told the jury.

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 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.

O’Connor argued that all the evidence the doctors used to base their opinions about Harris’ consciousness of wrongdoing was from the actions he took to plan and conceal the arson and not the murder. O’Connor told the jury that it was in the action of stabbing Henson that Harris was insane.

Prosecutor Michael Houston argued the jury should comeback with a verdict that finds Harris was sane when he stabbed Henson and when he set the car on fire. He argued that even if Harris is bipolar that didn’t mean he would have been insane at the moment of the offense.

“All three experts said the defense could not meet that standard,” Houston told the jury.

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.

The jury deliberated for about an hour Friday before leaving. They are set to return Tuesday to continue deliberations.