Editor’s note: This story contains material that might be disturbing to readers.By Shane Benjamin
Herald Staff Writer
For the third time in eight years, jurors on Tuesday began deliberating the fate of a Shiprock man accused of raping and killing a woman at a Durango motel in 2007.
Harold Nakai, 43, is charged with sexually assaulting Nicole Leigh Redhorse, 34, while she was physically helpless and unable to consent to intercourse as a result of severe intoxication.
The seven-day trial concluded Tuesday with closing arguments and the beginning of jury deliberations, which lasted from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Jurors are expected to resume deliberations at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.
Nakai was found guilty in 2008, but an appeals court granted him a new trial, saying some of the statements he made to police should have been suppressed at trial.
He received a new trial in June, and jurors convicted him again of criminally negligent homicide, but they were unable to reach a unanimous decision on the most serious charge – sexually assaulting a victim who was physically helpless, which could result in life behind bars.
Criminally negligent homicide is punishable by three years in prison, meaning Nakai should be eligible for release now if not convicted of sexual assault. He’s been in jail or prison since his arrest in 2007.
During closing arguments Tuesday, public defense lawyer Justin Bogan asked jurors to set aside their emotions and not convict an innocent man based on grisly details they heard during the trial.
He placed blame on Derrick Nelson Begaye and Carlton Lee Yazzie – two men who have been convicted of criminally negligent homicide and sexually assaulting Redhorse.
“Stopping the tragedy means finding this man not guilty,” Bogan told jurors.
Nakai and Redhorse were both heavy drinkers, and as boyfriend and girlfriend, they were accustomed to having drunken sex, which isn’t illegal, Bogan said.
But prosecutors said jurors should convict Nakai based on the evidence, including DNA evidence and the defendant’s own statements.
They accused Nakai of having anal and vaginal sex with Redhorse about 1:30 a.m. June 7, 2007, after she was sexually assaulted by Yazzie and Begaye.
They suspect Yazzie of using a blunt object – possibly a broken hammer handle – that caused severe tears to the inside of her vagina.
Nakai admitted to having sex with Redhorse later that night, but he said it was consensual.
He went downtown earlier that night, and he had no way of knowing she had been sexually assaulted, Bogan said.
He told police she hugged him, kissed him and whispered in his ear.
But prosecutors said Redhorse was too intoxicated to consent, and her vaginal injuries would have been too painful for intercourse unless she was in a deep stupor or comatose.
A forensic pathologist testified that sexual intercourse exacerbated her injuries, which caused her to bleed to death.
When Redhorse started bleeding profusely, Nakai told police he thought she was having a miscarriage.
He put her in the shower for about an hour before helping her out and setting her on the floor at the foot of the bed.
He stripped the bed of its sheets, flipped over the bloody mattress and went to sleep.
He awoke about 4:30 a.m. to find her dead on the floor. He put her cold, lifeless body in the shower again before calling 911 about 5 a.m.
Nakai didn’t take the witness stand in his own defense.