EVERETT – A man accused of killing his girlfriend and dismembering her body after she broke what he called a “blood oath” was found guilty this afternoon of first-degree murder.
Eric Christensen, 40, cackled as he was led out of the courtroom in shackles. He continued to laugh as jail guards began transporting him back to jail. Christensen faces more than 45 years in prison for the death of Sherry Harlan.
Jurors deliberated for about three hours after a two-week trial that included graphic photographs and grisly details. Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne told attorneys that he planned to tell jurors that counseling will be available if they feel that they have been traumatized by what they saw and heard in court.
As lawyers gave their closing arguments today it was clear that only the degree of Christensen’s guilt was in question.
His attorney Kathleen Kyle told jurors this morning that Christensen killed Harlan but said he didn’t plan the slaying.
“We know Eric has a temper. When Eric loses his temper, he hurts himself. He destroys property,” Kyle said. “When Eric lost his temper on Jan. 2, he hurt Sherry Harlan.”
He should be found guilty of second-degree murder, she said. He didn’t kill Harlan because she broke the blood oath. He already knew before Jan. 2 that Harlan continued to communicate with the other man. Something happened inside of Harlan’s Everett apartment, but there is no evidence that it was premeditated murder, Kyle told jurors.
His attempt to cover up the crime isn’t evidence that he planned to kill Harlan either, the attorney said. Instead, it proves that he was a desperate man who didn’t carefully think through what he did.
“Sherry Harlan was not hurt by the defendant. She did not just die. She was brutally murdered,” Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Craig Matheson said during closing arguments.
Investigators believe Christensen dismembered Harlan’s body, including cutting out her sexual organs. Her skull was found inside her burned out car off Reiter Road. Other remains were located scattered around east Snohomish County. A witness told police Christensen stuffed the remains in plastic garbage bags and dumped them off in the woods. He threw some body parts into the brush and over embankments, the man told jurors on Wednesday.
Christensen became enraged after he found text messages between Harlan and the man Christensen called “sugar daddy,” Matheson said. The defendant believed Harlan was his possession and he couldn’t abide by her breaking her promise, the deputy prosecutor said. In his mind, he had no choice but to kill Harlan.
That morning he went to the store to buy some medicine for Harlan who was having stomach problems. He returned to her apartment and searched her cell phone while she was in the shower. He saw a message from the other man:
“See what two men does for (you). Too much stress. (Laugh out loud).”
That is the message that got Harlan killed, Matheson said. Not only had she broken her oath, but she and the “sugar daddy” were laughing about it, Matheson said.
Every step he took from the bedroom to the kitchen where he grabbed knives and every second that passed on his way back to the bedroom and Harlan demonstrates that the killing was planned, the deputy prosecutor said.
“Why would he walk to the bedroom to the kitchen to get a knife unless he was planning to kill her?” Matheson asked jurors. “There is no reasonable explanation other then that was the plan.”
Christensen is scheduled to be sentenced June 18.