Date Published 02.10.12

A violent crime never ends with a dead victim.  The singular act reverberates, its wounds appearing in other people, sometimes months and years later.  Recently I was following up with a murder victim’s family and heard that the victim’s mother had died.  “Of a broken heart,” they said.  From what I can tell that’s the leading cause of death among people who have lost a loved one to violent crime.


The pain ricochets.  I think of the Sunday afternoon last September when a group of children playing in Hyde Park, New York noticed a man slumped over in a truck.  His name was John Filiberti.  He was 48.  He’d been a technician for Verizon for 22 years.  Seven months earlier the body of his 18 year-old daughter, Kathryn, was found in the woods of a nearby park.  She was murdered.  After much confusion in the community, a suspect was finally arrested.  The suspect, Stephen Shand, 23, had allegedly been delivering papers before dawn and spotted Kathryn walking home from a party.  They didn’t know each other.  Kathryn had fought with a boyfriend at the party and impulsively decided to walk home.  Random.  But if only. 


A few weeks after Shand’s arrest John Filiberti parked his Verizon truck near the company’s maintenance building, took out a .40 semi-automatic handgun, and shot himself in the head.


“He never let me know what was going on,” his brother said.  “I thought everything was okay with him.”


It rarely is okay, when there’s a murder in the family. Sometimes it feels like  violent crime operates like a contagious disease, a breakout followed by several years of dormancy and then, when all seems well, a sudden flare.


Consider the case of Jeanine Sanchez Harms.  Harms, of Los Gatos, California, was 42, newly single and going through an amicable divorce, when on July 27, 2001 she decided to meet up with friends at the Rock Bottom Brewery bar.  There she met Maurice Nasmeh, an architect from San Jose.  Harms ended up inviting Nasmeh back to her apartment.  He claims that after drinking a few Heinekens with Harms he left her place a little after midnight; Harms was sleeping on her couch at the time.


Jeanine Harms


But Harms was never seen again.  Her Persian-style rug, couch cushions, cell phone and purse were missing.  A neighbor told police that she heard a “loud, percussive” sound coming from Harms’ apartment around midnight, then saw a bald, roughly 40-year old man with a mustache leaving the apartment a short time later.


Maurice Nasmeh


Jeanine Harms’ disappearance became a high-profile case in the South Bay area, in part because Harms was sociable, had many friends, and was very close with her family.  Her loved ones worked tirelessly to get the word out and kept in contact with investigators.


Maurice Nasmeh quickly became the prime suspect, but police didn’t have much until a few years after the disappearance when they publicly released a picture of the Persian-style rug missing from Harms’ living room.  A woman came forward and said that she and her daughter had picked up such a rug from a construction site --- a site that happened to be a half-mile from Nasmeh’s house.  In December 2004, after the crime lab matched fibers from the rug to Harms’ apartment and Nasmeh’s Jeep Cherokee, Nasmeh was arrested.


But in 2007, Nasmeh was released after problems with the crime lab came to light, and a judge ruled that his right to a speedy trial had been violated.  Prosecutors vowed to have the evidence retested; because a jury hadn’t been impaneled the double jeopardy rule didn’t apply.


Nasmeh maintained his innocence and complained his life had been ruined by the accusations.  Meanwhile, Harms’ family remained focused on the case and how to solve it.  But the investigators’ pace distressed them; Harms’ brother Wayne Sanchez, who’d been close with his sister, was particularly agitated. 


“I hope I never run into that guy,” he said of Nasmeh.


On Saturday evening, January 15, 2011, Nasmeh and his girlfriend popped into the Red Robin restaurant at a shopping center in San Jose.  There was only one seat open at the bar, and Nasmeh’s girlfriend told him to take it.  A Sharks hockey game was playing.  Nasmeh and the guy sitting next to him casually talked sports.


When did they recognize each other?  No one knows.  Nasmeh’s girlfriend, who didn’t know about Nasmeh’s past, doesn’t think it was right away. 


At some point Wayne Sanchez realized he was sitting next to the man he believed killed his sister. 


When Nasmeh and his girlfriend left Red Robin and were on their way to Peet’s Coffee, Sanchez suddenly appeared at their side.  He was an angry, threatening presence.


“So what’s your boyfriend’s name?” he yelled at Nasmeh’s girlfriend.  She was confused.  Nasmeh seemed tense.  The men had words, and Sanchez walked away in anger.  It’s okay, Nasmeh tried to reassure his girlfriend, everything's fine.


Sanchez was 52.  He was unemployed.  He lived with his parents.  His sister’s disappearance haunted him.  He felt Maurice Nasmeh had gotten away with murder.  At 9:19 p.m. Sanchez burst into the crowded Peet’s Coffee and confronted Nasmeh again.  Witness accounts vary on what was said, but the tone is always the same --- outrage, fury.  Ten years after his sister went missing, Wayne Sanchez raised his gun and shot Maurice Nasmeh dead.


Sanchez ran into the parking lot.  As sirens approached, he shot himself to death.


Seven months later, investigators announced that the Jeanine Harms case was officially closed. 

Additional private testing, they said, proved conclusively that Nasmeh murdered Jeanine Harms, rolled her up in her carpet, and disposed of her body somewhere.  Exactly where will likely remain a mystery.

The Feed

RT @emilynussbaum: The artful @hodgman's straightforward case for Hillary:
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Know what he does believe in? PAC $. Took 10K from HRC pac 2006. That means he's in her pocket.#BSLogic
@Twaikuer @pattonoswalt @daveanthony Good one. Unfortunately Bernie on record as not believing in charity.
@johnlevenstein Thanks for asking, btw. That's the kind of elevated discourse missing lately. A lot of mud slinging. #I'mNotAboveItEither
@johnlevenstein Can't convey it all thru Twitter but yes, she has flaws. Too poll-driven, burned needed bridges, trouble owning mistakes.