UA Navajo Roommate Case Ends in Guilty Verdict

TUCSON

A young woman accused of stabbing her roommate to death in their University of Arizona dorm room could be sentenced to life in prison after being convicted Sept. 19 of first-degree murder.

Galareka Harrison was convicted of stabbing Mia Henderson 23 times with a knife that she had bought before the attack on Sept. 5, 2007. Both women were Navajo tribal members from Northern Arizona but did not know each other before school started.

The Pima County Superior Court jury deliberated about 3 1/2 hours before reaching the verdict.

Harrison, 19, was also found guilty of three forgery counts and identity theft.

The Tucson Citizen reported that jurors said the evidence that Harrison bought an 8-inch kitchen knife the previous day and wrote a fake suicide letter for Henderson helped prove premeditated murder.

Harrison could get life in prison and could be eligible for parole after 25 years, depending on the results of a hearing before her Nov. 25 sentencing. Prosecutors had decided not to seek the death penalty.

In closing arguments, prosecutor Rick Unklesbay said that Harrison had spent days planning what to do after Henderson had accused her of stealing her student-ID charge card, a Social Security card, checks and $500 from a bank account. Unklesbay called Harrison a “master manipulator” who lied repeatedly to the police after the stabbing. She finally admitted to stabbing her 18-year-old roommate but insisted that she had done so in self-defense.

Assistant public defender John O’Brien had characterized Harrison as a naive, scared and confused 18-year-old who had found herself unwanted as Henderson’s roommate and worried that she would be prosecuted over the theft allegations. O’Brien called no witnesses during the weeklong trial.

During testimony, another UA student testified that Harrison had bought an 8-inch kitchen knife on Sept. 3 on the way back from a Labor Day weekend trip home to the Navajo Reservation.

Jurors also were told that during that trip, Harrison mentioned having a friend who was considering suicide, asked whether the police could detect fingerprints through gloves and said she thought her roommate was stealing from her.

Harrison also spent several hours before the stabbing at a campus library, composing a fake suicide note pretending to be her roommate, Unklesbay said. Henderson was stabbed numerous times in the back.

After proceedings ended,  jury foreman Ian Roberts said he was swayed to find Harrison guilty of premeditated, first-degree murder because of statements she made to police about spending time “thinking and thinking and thinking” before the attack.

Mia Henderson, whom friends called Princess Mia, was captain of her softball team and a star student at Tuba City High School northeast of Flagstaff. The National Honor Society member had hoped to study genetics or sports medicine and had won a four-year, $7,000-a-year tribal scholarship for college-bound Navajos. Harrison grew up in Chinle, 95 miles east of Tuba City near the New Mexico state line, and was a track and rodeo standout who wanted to become a pharmacist.

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