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Aaron Harris

Aaron Harris is handcuffed by Brice Ausenhus (right) of the Cerro Gordo County Sheriff's Department after being found guilty of first degree murder on Monday, May 20, 2013.

MASON CITY — Aaron John Harris showed no emotion as he was led  away by a Cerro Gordo County jailer Monday afternoon after being found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his girlfriend Sarah Winters of Mason City.

It took a Cerro Gordo County jury less than three hours to reach a verdict.

Harris was charged in the July 10, 2012, strangulation death of Winters at his rooming house, 410 N. Washington Ave.

No sentencing date has been set. Harris faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

“We are very, very pleased with the verdict,” said  County Attorney Carlyle Dalen. “This factually was a very gruesome case.  I mean to think of a man putting his hands around somebody and absolutely taking the life of that person is just absolutely gruesome.”

The jury found the defenses of diminished capacity and intoxication were not appropriate.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Susan Flander called on the jury to consider evidence the prosecution didn’t present during deliberations.

She asked the jury why police didn’t take blood, breath or urine samples from Harris to determine his level of intoxication on the night of the murder.

“You can wonder why they don’t. Intoxication is a defense,” Flander said.

Assistant Iowa Attorney General Douglas Hammerand said it doesn’t matter how intoxicated Harris was the night of the crime because he was able to form the intent to kill.

Dalen said the decision was the culmination of a lot of work from law enforcement and the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

This is the second Class A felony conviction for the county attorney’s office in the past six weeks.

A Cerro Gordo County jury found Warren Purvis guilty of first-degree sexual abuse, a Class A felony,  on April 5. Purvis was sentenced to life without parole on May 10.

“I think we’ve been very aggressive on these cases and I think it’s paid off,” Dalen said.

“I think the juries are seeing that these are violent types of crimes and they are coming  back with very serious verdicts.”

Monday was the first time Sarah’s mother mother, Lawan Winters of Mason City, was in court.

She sobbed during closing arguments when the prosecution talked about how her daughter was killed.

 “You could see how emotional she was when she heard some of the additional facts that she hasn’t wanted to hear before,” Dalen said.

“I gave her a big hug when we left and I think she was appreciative of all the work that was done by everybody,” he said.

Harris will remain in the Cerro Gordo County Jail until sentencing.

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