A defendant told a jury Wednesday that he did not intend to stab or kill a 25-year-old man in Turlock six years ago. He said he intended to burn the man’s car to send him a message.
“I was scared for my life at the time,” Nicholas John Harris said on the witness stand about Mark Anthony Henson’s stabbing death. “I didn’t mean to stab him.”
While Harris provided the jury plenty of details about what he did that night, he couldn’t explain why he stabbed Henson after he had an opportunity to run away before anyone was injured.
“It was happening so fast,” the defendant told the jurors.
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Harris is accused of murder and arson in Henson’s death. The stabbing occurred Aug. 12, 2008.
Turlock police have said Henson was stabbed several times. The injured man knocked on a door in the 500 block of Bennington Avenue, asking for help, when authorities found him shortly after 1 a.m. in the neighborhood a few blocks west of California State University, Stanislaus.
Police discovered Henson’s car burning nearby. Henson was taken to Emanuel Medical Center in Turlock, where he died from his injuries.
Harris claims Henson was stalking a woman the defendant once dated. He testified Wednesday that he was going to burn Henson’s Mitsubishi to get Henson to back off.
The defendant said he got gasoline from a gas station but later placed the gas in a cat litter box, because people might consider it suspicious if they saw him walking with a gasoline container in the middle of the night. He also brought with him a knife to slash Henson’s tires and a car jack and tire iron to remove the wheels before setting the vehicle on fire, he explained in court.
Harris described for the jury some of what he was feeling during the incident, but said he can’t remember what he was thinking that night. He told the jury that he has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
“I believe I was having a manic episode,” Harris testified. “The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me.”
He also told the jury that playing video games such as “Grand Theft Auto” might have been a factor in his manic episode that night. Harris said he had no control of his body movements that night, it was more of a subconscious reaction. He testified that it was “like watching a movie.”
The defendant said he had started removing the vehicle’s right rear wheel when he spotted Henson lying in the front seat with his head near the driver’s side door. He said he didn’t know Henson was going to be inside the car.
“I felt fear,” Harris said on the witness stand. “I was afraid of him waking up.”
He abandoned his initial plan and decided to grab a bag he saw in the back seat. Harris testified that he was going to “borrow” the bag and give it back to Henson a few days later, but he couldn’t explain why.
During cross-examination, he couldn’t answer why he didn’t run away before Henson knew he was there. He couldn’t explain why he instead chose to stay there and try to grab Henson’s bag.
“I don’t remember thinking anything,” Harris said.
Harris opened the right rear passenger door to grab the bag, but the light inside the car turned on. Henson was alerted and sat up in the front seat. At some point, Henson pulled out what appeared to be a butterfly knife, according to Harris’ testimony.
Henson said something to Harris, but the defendant testified that he can’t remember what Henson told him. Harris saw the two folding handles of the butterfly knife, which conceal the blade. But he testified that he couldn’t tell whether Henson had unfolded the knife to expose the blade.
Harris told the jurors that he slammed the right rear door shut to get away from Henson. But he then walked around the back of the car, grabbed a towel, brandished his own knife and approached the driver’s window. He couldn’t explain why he didn’t run away then.
“I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking,” Harris testified.
The defendant said he felt he could talk to Henson and de-escalate the situation. “The whole thing was crazy. I was acting crazy,” he testified.
Henson tried to open his door, but Harris slammed it shut on him. Then, a struggle ensued with Henson in his car and Harris reaching inside through the opened window. Henson had Harris’ left arm pinned against the steering wheel.
“I was scared he was going to get out of the car and stab me,” the defendant said about Henson.
Harris testified that he thought of stabbing Henson in the neck, but he doesn’t remember stabbing Henson during the struggle inside the car. Harris said he remembers swinging his knife at Henson.
Then, Henson got out of the car. Harris testified that Henson charged at him, and that he threw the towel at Henson’s head before swinging his knife at Henson.
The first time Harris saw Henson bleeding was when the towel came off Henson’s head, Harris said.
“I saw that blood was coming from his mouth,” Harris told the jury.
Then, Henson ran away in a zig-zag motion, heading up the street before asking for help at the nearby home. The defendant said he had a pattern of small bruises on his arm from the struggle.
“I didn’t receive any stab wounds, miraculously,” Harris told the jury.
The defendant then walked back to Henson’s car and grabbed the litter box with the gasoline. He said he poured the gasoline on the car’s roof and hood. He said he lit the car on fire using a lighter, burning himself in the process.
Harris testified that he went home and washed his clothes and his knife sheath twice. He also washed blood off his knife’s blade, using soap and water.
The trial is expected to continue today in Stanislaus Superior Court. Harris, 27, remains in jail.