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Sentence handed down for 2008 murder
Harris Nicholas
Nicholas Harris was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the 2008 murder of Mark Henson. - photo by Photo Contributed

The man previously convicted of stabbing to death a 25-year-old Turlock resident and setting his car on fire was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison on Wednesday.

A Stanislaus County Superior Court judge sentenced Nicholas Harris to 16 years to life in prison for the 2008 murder of Mark Henson. Harris also was sentenced to two years for arson, which will be served concurrently with the murder sentence, according to the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office. Harris will eventually be eligible for parole and does get credit for time served. He has been held in custody at the Stanislaus County Jail since his arrest in August 2008.

In June 2014, a Stanislaus County jury convicted Harris of second-degree murder along with the enhancement he used a deadly weapon. They also found him guilty of arson. Harris had entered a not guilty by reason of insanity plea, bit in August the same jury found he was sane when the crimes were committed.

Harris was charged with murder for the 2008 stabbing of Henson on Bennington Avenue in Turlock. During the trial Harris testified he believed Henson — who he had never met — was harassing his girlfriend, who had previously dated Henson. Harris said he wanted to send Henson a message to stay away from his girlfriend.

Harris found Henson’s car parked near the intersection of Bennington Avenue and Salem Way on Aug. 11, 2008. He told the court his plans were to slash the tires, but that when he saw the windows were down, he decided he would set the car on fire.

In the early morning hours of Aug. 12, 2008, Harris returned to Henson’s 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.

In the attempt to take the backpack, Henson was awoken and asked Harris who he was and what he was doing.

Harris told investigators he gave Henson his name as he approached the driver’s side of the tour. On the stand, Harris had little recollection of what happened next, but in a videotaped confession made just a day after the incident, Harris described stabbing Henson repeatedly in the back.

Harris told investigators and the court that Henson had a butterfly knife, though no knife or evidence of a knife was ever found at the crime scene.

Henson was able to get out of the car and was eventually able to break free and run for help. He died from multiple stab wounds on a neighbor’s front porch. Harris testified that after Henson fled he decided to go ahead and set the car on fire.

“Sixteen years just doesn't seem enough for the loss of my son or any person who has been brutally attacked and killed, however, it is a punishment, and for that I am grateful,” said Henson’s mother Christie Henson. “But it's not the end, it is just a break before the fight to keep him in prison begins for I will be at every parole hearing to tell my son’s story. There is no winning here for either family.”

Harris testified that he was 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,” Defense Attorney Steven O’Connor told the jury during the insanity phase. “He didn’t know it was wrong.”