Editor’s note: This story contains material that might be disturbing to some readers.By Shane Benjamin
Herald Staff Writer
Jurors were unable to reach a decision this week on the most serious charge facing a Shiprock man accused of raping and killing his girlfriend nine years ago at a Durango motel.
They did find Harold Nakai guilty of criminally negligent homicide, a charge that carries one to three years in prison.
Nakai, 43, who remained virtually motionless and expressionless during the two-week trial, appeared the same way when the verdict was read about 6 p.m. Friday.
Prosecutors said they planned to meet with the victim’s family to discuss whether they will retry Nakai on the most serious charge, sexually assaulting a victim who was physically helpless, which carries a possible lifetime prison sentence.
A hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. July 5 in 6th Judicial District Court to determine what will happen next.
If prosecutors decide not to retry Nakai, he would likely be released from prison, where he has spent the last nine years of his life.
It was the second trial for Nakai, who was convicted on both counts in 2008 but was granted a new trial after an appeals court ruled some of the statements he made to police should have been suppressed.
Prosecutors said Nakai, along with two other men – Derrick Nelson Begaye and Carlton Lee Yazzie – took Nicole Leigh Redhorse, 34, to Spanish Trails Inn & Suites, 3141 Main Ave., where all three engaged in sexual relations with her at different times. Witnesses said Redhorse appeared highly intoxicated upon arriving at the motel at 4:45 p.m. June 6, 2007. Some said she needed help walking up stairs and to the room.
At some point, one of the men used a blunt object – possibly a broken hammer handle – to assault her vaginally, which caused serious internal injuries.
Those wounds were exacerbated later in the evening by Nakai, who had sex with her after a long night of drinking, said Dan Hotsenpiller with the 7th Judicial District.
Prosecutors said Redhorse couldn’t possibly have consented to sexual intercourse. She was in an out of consciousness, and her injuries would have been extremely painful. While Nakai may not have caused the initial injuries, his decision to sexually assault her caused severe bleeding that led to her death, Hotsenpiller said.
Once Nakai discovered her bleeding, he helped Redhorse to the bathroom and put her into a shower, where he left her for about 1½ hours. Blood clots from Redhorse were so severe that they were clogging the drain of the bathtub, according to a videotaped interview Nakai did with police that was shown to jurors.
Instead of calling 911, Nakai stripped the bloody sheets from the bed, flipped the bloody mattress, helped Redhorse out of the shower, set her down at the foot of a bed and went to sleep, Hotsenpiller said.
When he awoke at 4:26 a.m., Redhorse was cold to the touch and had a stiff jaw. In a state of panic, he put her in the shower again to try to revive her before calling 911 about 5 a.m.
About two dozen witnesses testified during the trial, including a coroner, law enforcement, forensic experts and former friends and family members of Redhorse.
Her parents, Kenneth and Winona Redhorse, sat through the entire trial. It was the fourth trial they sat through related to their daughter’s death. Begaye and Yazzie were also convicted of negligent homicide and sexual assault in 2008.
After Friday’s verdict, Kenneth Redhorse said he’s willing to sit through a fifth trial.
Defense lawyers said Nakai and Redhorse had consensual sex, and Nakai had no way of knowing she had been sexually assaulted with a blunt object earlier in the evening while he was downtown.
Redhorse hugged him, kissed him and whispered in his ear to indicate her willingness to have sex, according to a recorded interview he did with law enforcement. Both were heavy drinkers who routinely had drunken sex, sometimes while other people were in the room, according to testimony.
Nakai thought Redhorse was having a miscarriage; he had no way of knowing she had been sexually assaulted, said public defender Kenneth Pace. Not even Redhorse knew the extent of her injuries, he said.
Nakai didn’t take the witness stand in his own defense.
“This is about two loving, consenting adults who happen to be alcoholics,” Pace said during closing arguments. “He loved her. He cared for her.”