By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer
EVERETT — Sherry Harlan’s sin was breaking a promise. Her punishment was death, mutilation and dismemberment.
That’s the theory prosecutors began laying out in front of jurors on Tuesday in the first day of testimony in the trial of a Gold Bar man accused of planning and carrying out the brutal murder of his girlfriend.
Eric James Christensen is charged with first-degree murder.
Prosecutors allege that Christensen, 40, became enraged after learning that Harlan broke what he called a “blood oath” and continued communicating with another man.
If convicted, Christensen faces more than 40 years in prison.
His attorney Kathleen Kyle didn’t try to convince jurors on Tuesday that Christensen wasn’t responsible for Harlan’s death. She told jurors that Christensen admitted to a friend that he killed Harlan and he solicited that friend’s help to dispose of Harlan’s remains. Christensen’s blood was found in Harlan’s apartment. Her blood was found on clothes taken from Christensen’s home.
“So why are we here if all of these are undisputed facts?” Kyle asked during opening statements. “The question left is, was this a premeditated murder?”
There is no evidence that the killing was planned, Kyle said. Christensen didn’t bring a weapon to Harlan’s apartment or buy anything ahead of time to carry out the crime, the defense attorney said. Harlan wasn’t secreted away and Christensen didn’t attempt to change his appearance.
There obviously was an attempt to cover up the murder, but that doesn’t prove premeditation, Kyle explained to jurors.
To prove that Harlan’s killing was premeditated, prosecutors will have to show that Christensen deliberately formed intent to kill her beyond more than a moment in time.
It is likely jurors will be instructed to also consider the lesser charge of second-degree murder. If convicted of second-degree murder, Christensen could face up to 30 years in prison.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson asked jurors to pay close attention to details, including events in the days leading up to murder and the days following. Those details will prove that the killing was premeditated, Matheson said.
Jurors on Tuesday began hearing some of the grisly details surrounding Harlan’s death. The Everett woman’s head, arms, legs and left breast were cut off. Her sexual organs were intentionally removed, Matheson said.
Her skull was found on the front seat of her car next to a large butcher knife. Doctors found the tip of a different knife embedded in Harlan’s skull. That knife later was found in the trunk of the burned out car.
Matheson told jurors they will hear from witnesses who will testify to the force it would take to inflict such an injury. Jurors also will hear about the amount of time it would take to dismember and mutilate Harlan’s body.
The evidence will show the “dark places a human soul can go when it’s taken over by jealousy, rage and a need to dominate another human being,” Matheson said.
Jurors are expected to hear from the man who allegedly helped Christensen hide Harlan’s remains. That same man, who Christensen met while attending a Wiccan church in Index, is expected to testify that he witnessed the blood oath between Harlan and Christensen.
Detectives reported that Christensen told them someone who breaks an oath would be considered a “warlock” or traitor and in ancient times, punishment for breaking an oath could be death.
Testimony is expected to continue today.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; email@example.com.