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Trial underway for Turlock man accused of 2008 murder
Harris Nicholas
Nicholas Harris

Nearly six years after a quiet Turlock neighborhood was rocked by a fire and a fatal stabbing, the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office started presenting their case Wednesday against the accused, 27-year-old Nicholas Harris.

Harris is facing murder and arson charges for the death of 25-year-old Mark Henson. Henson died Aug. 12, 2008, from multiple stab wounds.

Henson was stabbed at least 15 times and was found bleeding on the front porch of a home on Bennington Avenue. His car, parked nearby, had been set on fire. He was rushed to Emanuel Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The district attorney’s office alleges Harris set Henson’s car on fire and stabbed him multiple times because he suspected Henson was harassing his girlfriend.

The defense acknowledges Harris had a role in Henson’s death, but believes he should be found guilty on a lesser charge of manslaughter, rather than murder, because they claim Henson had his own knife and swung it at Harris.

“Nicholas Harris acted to save his own life by stabbing Mark Henson,” Harris’ defense attorney Steven O’Connor told the jury during his opening remarks Wednesday.

O’Connor told the jury that Harris did intend to damage Henson’s vehicle, which is why he had gasoline with him, but that he didn’t know Henson would be in the car and that a confrontation would end with such horrific results.

Much of the defense’s case hinges on the claim that Henson was armed with a butterfly knife, and even though no knife was ever recovered from the crime scene, O’Connor told the jury that doesn’t necessarily mean it wasn’t there to begin with.

O’Connor told the jury there are three possible explanations as to why the knife wasn’t found. He said a neighbor, who was friends with Henson could have removed it; a police officer at the scene was distantly related to Henson and might have removed it; or the knife was lost when fire fighters were hosing down the burning car.

The prosecution contends there is no evidence Henson was in possession of a butterfly knife.

The first day of testimony focused on the recollections of the first officers on the scene and some of the Bennington Avenue residents.

Erin Genest was living on Bennington Avenue at the time of the killing and testified she awoke around 1 a.m. on Aug. 12, 2008 when she heard someone yelling and knocking on her front door.

“He was yelling ‘I’m dying, I’m dying. Please let me in,’” she stated on the witness stand.

Genest could see a car in flames from her window and called 911. She also ran and woke up her father, retired Ceres Police Officer William Genest.

William Genest testified he grabbed his gun and kept the door closed for the safety of his family. He said he saw a man, later identified as Henson, standing then sitting on his front porch. He testified the man got quiet, then “went limp.”

“It appeared he had died at that point,” William Genest said.

He testified he went outside at that point and saw Henson’s bloody back and pools of blood around him.

Carolyn McCone, another Bennington Avenue resident, testified she felt her whole house shake and then heard her son screaming in his room. When she looked outside her son’s bedroom window, she saw what she described as “a 30-foot ball of fire.”

McCone also testified that she saw a person moving near the car that was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans. O’Connor disputed her recollection, asking her if she originally told police the person was wearing a long-sleeved light denim shirt. McCone said she had no recollection of ever describing the clothing in that manner.

Turlock Police officer Mark Alberti was the first officer on scene and described finding a bloody trail that led up to the house where Henson was found. Alberti also testified he never saw a butterfly knife in his inspection of the crime scene.

Testimony is expected to continue for the next few weeks.