Harrison sentenced to life without parole

By Candace Begody
Special to the Times

TUCSON, Nov. 25, 2008

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(Courtesy of Arizona Daily Star - Greg Bryan )

Galareka Harrison, 19, convicted of fatally stabbing her roommate in her University of Arizona dorm room, listens to her attorney John O'Brien during a pre-sentencing hearing Monday in Tucson. Relatives of her victim, Mia Henderson, spent the day making emotional final statements before Tuesday's sentencing.

(Times photo - Paul Natonabah)

Mia Henderson is congratulated by relatives following Tuba City High School's commencement exercises May 26, 2007. Henderson, a University of Arizona student, died following a fight with roommate Galareka Harrison in a dormitory Sept. 5, 2007.

(Times photo - Donovan Quintero)

Pallbearers place the casket of the late Mia Henderson into a van Sept. 10, 2007, at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Gallup, N.M.

Galareka Harrison was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison without parole for the first-degree murder of her college roommate.

"You killed in a very violent way," Judge Nanette Warner said, looking at Harrison, 19, from Many Farms, Ariz. "No sentence of mine will change the decisions you made in those early morning hours."

In September a jury deliberated only three and a half hours before finding Harrison guilty of killing her freshman roommate Mia Henderson, 18, of Tuba City.

On Sept. 5, 2007, Henderson was found on her knees, slumped over in a fetal position, in the dorm room the two shared on the University of Arizona campus. She had 23 stab wounds to her neck and back and died shortly after arriving at the hospital.

Prosecutor Rick Unklesbay asked Warner to consider the emotional harm felt not only by the Henderson family, but by the Navajo Nation and the university community as well.

"I can't remember the depth of pain in any other case, more than I have seen in this case," he said. "We can't even begin to describe to the court the depth of pain Mia's family suffered."

Unklesbay further asked the judge to consider the extent of planning that went into the murder and Harrison's attempts to cover it up.

"She had plenty of opportunities to decide not to kill Mia," he added. "Her decision was not to own up to what happened. Instead she went out and bought a butcher's knife and wrote a letter..."

Unklesbay was referring to Harrison's taped interview with police just hours after the stabbing. Harrison had changed her story three times during the interview, finally admitting that she had "poked" Henderson, but saying it was only after Henderson attacked her.

Another UA student testified that Harrison had bought a knife, later identified as the murder weapon, at Target after returning to Tucson from the reservation that Labor Day weekend.

A suicide note, which Harrison later admitted to writing, was found on Henderson's desk in their room. Part of the note read: "I've thought over the whole weekend of just putting an end to life. I didn't know how to tell my parents about the situation. I felt completely lost. I felt crazy."

"You can't help but feel sympathy for her and her family," Unklesbay said of Harrison after the hearing. "But we are pleased. A sentence was reached that was deserved."

Unklesbay said from the get-go, prosecutors sought life in prison without parole. Under Arizona law, prosecutors could have sought the death penalty.

As with Harrison's trial, her defense attorneys did not put anyone on the stand to testify on her behalf at her sentencing hearing. Defense attorney John O'Brien pleaded with Warner to consider a number of things.

For one, O'Brien said, the exceptional woman Henderson is painted to be also applies to Harrison.

"No one will say she is a bad seed," O'Brien said of Harrison. "This is a young woman that had every bit as much promise as Mia. She has goals, aspirations, and carried with her the desire for something better, like education."

O'Brien added that Harrison plans on continuing her education even though she will be incarcerated.

Late in the hearing, he asked the judge to consider that Harrison may have been temporarily insane. He said she had been given a psychological evaluation the day before her sentencing hearing, and that the doctor said she had been under great pressure during her short time at UA and may have just snapped.

"You had a woman that was lost," O'Brien said. "The world was caving in around her. She was at the bottom of the well where the light was getting smaller and smaller. She had no coping skills to deal with it."

O'Brien closed by saying that Harrison "was truly, truly sorry for the pain she has caused. She comes from a close-knit community and family, (and) therefore understands what she has done to her people and family."

When asked if she wanted to say anything, Harrison said, almost whispering, "I just want everyone to know, we all suffered for this."

O'Brien declined further comment after the hearing.

After the hearing, the Henderson family shed tears and hugged one another once the courtroom cleared out. The Harrison family immediately left the courthouse.

Neither family wanted to make a comment.

Warner also sentenced Harrison to 30-month sentences for each of three counts of forgery and one count of identity theft. The sentences will run concurrently with her life sentence.

RELATED | Friend of student convicted of Mia Henderson's murder talks about the killer

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