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Former UA student who murdered roommate resentenced

Galareka+Harrison%2C+crying+in+the+middle+of+the+picture%2C+in+Superior+court+during+a+re-sentencing+of+her++for+the+2007+killing+of+University+of+Arizona+roommate+Monday+August++26%2C+2013+in+Tucson%2C+Arizona.+No+ID+on+the+two+women+attorneys+with+her+on+both+sides+of+her+yet%2C+will+get+later+from+reporter.+
Benjie Sanders / Arizona Daily S
Galareka Harrison, crying in the middle of the picture, in Superior court during a re-sentencing of her for the 2007 killing of University of Arizona roommate Monday August 26, 2013 in Tucson, Arizona. No ID on the two women attorneys with her on both sides of her yet, will get later from reporter.

A former UA student convicted of killing her roommate in their dorm in 2007 has been granted the possibility of parole.

Galareka Harrison was sentenced to life in prison without parole in November 2008 for the murder of Mia Henderson, age 18. Harrison was convicted of stabbing Henderson in their room in Graham-Greenlee Residence Hall, one week after Henderson had accused her of stealing checks and $500 from a bank account.

Harrison was also convicted of forgery and identity theft.

On Monday, Harrison stood before Pima County Superior Court Judge Scott Rash to ask for a reduced sentence with the possibility of parole. Harrison’s attorney, Alex Heveri, argued that Harrison had been inadequately represented and that her attorney in 2008 had failed to give Harrison’s medical records to a psychologist who was evaluating her before her original sentencing.

Harrison didn’t have a criminal history, which is unusual for a murder case, Heveri said, adding that she chose to take on the case and investigate the reasons behind Harrison’s actions because she wanted to provide answers for those affected by the incident.

“It wasn’t just for Galareka. It was for everybody to know the truth, because everybody had questions of why,” Heveri said. “Until people really learn why nobody has an understanding and it’s very hard to heal and very hard to move past.”

Heveri also attributed Harrison’s actions to her difficulties coping in her new environment. Both Galareka and her roommate had moved from the Navajo Nation to the dorm for their freshman year. Harrison, who was 18 at the time of the stabbing, never had the experience of having to tell her parents she got in trouble, and when she was caught stealing money from Henderson, “it was the end of the world for her,” Heveri said.

Heveri also said that Harrison was not ready to be admitted to a university.

A victim impact letter stated that university officials should share some guilt about the incident, Rash said.

“The defendant should have never been admitted to the university,” Rash read from the letter. “The defendant was clearly not capable of the academic curriculum at the university level, as one psychological report noted. Her personal statement on the entrance application was poorly written and not thought out.”

Additionally, the letter stated that Galareka’s high school had changed her grade to make her eligible for a scholarship.

In her closing argument, Heveri added that Harrison had emailed university officials explaining her dire financial situation. Harrison did not have money for books or school supplies and the UA did not assist her, prompting her client to steal money from Henderson, Heveri said.

Harrison said she intended to tell her family about the theft when she went home for Labor Day weekend, but she did not want to “break the family’s heart,” Heveri added.

During the trial, members of Henderson’s family asked Rash to maintain Harrison’s sentence. The courtroom was filled with friends and family who cried throughout the hearing, and several spoke about the pain and the impact that Mia’s loss has had on their lives.

Jennifer Henderson told the court about her daughter’s baby booties, which she kept despite the Navajo tradition of giving away all the possessions of a person once they die.

Members of the Henderson family said they did not want their children to feel burdened in 25 years, when Harrison could be up for parole.

“We need peace, and that’s what I’m asking,” Jennifer Henderson said. “I’m asking for peace in our lives to let our reservation community settle because it doesn’t matter where I go … people still tell me, to this day, how much it has impacted them.”

Harrison’s parents also spoke at the trial. Both were emotional and in tears when apologizing to the Henderson family for their daughter’s crime.

“I would like to apologize to Mia’s family,” said Janis Harrison, Galareka’s mother. “I am very, very sorry for what my daughter has done. I know that you had dreams for [Mia].”

The UA declined to comment on the court’s decision to change Harrison’s sentencing.

Long-term impact on UA

Nick Sweeton, senior associate director of residential education at Residence Life, said he remembered calling friends who worked in UA housing after hearing about the incident. He was working at the University of Hawaii’s housing program at the time, but Sweeton said the UA’s case was discussed in one of his staff meetings.

“It caught the entire [residence life] field … off guard,” Sweeton said.

After Henderson’s murder, UA Residence Life analyzed staff training methods, but Sweeton said no new practices or policies were developed. Resident assistants are asked to monitor residents, including their schedules, and check in with the students if they notice any deviations, such as if they see that a student stops going to class.

“That’s not necessarily because we think there might be violence going on in the room, but we want to check for other things too, like make sure they’re doing well in classes and all that,” Sweeton said.

RAs and residents are also reminded frequently of the importance of maintaining good communication between roommates, following their roommate contract and turning to staff or campus police if problems ever arise, Sweeton added.

“This happens extraordinarily rarely across the country so … I don’t know if there’s anything differently we could’ve done ahead of time,” he said. “I don’t know, for example, why the roommate didn’t communicate to the RA or to staff that there was a problem in the room. I don’t know if we’ll ever know that.”

The Dean of Students Office, Residence Life and Multicultural Affairs and Student Success worked together to provide personal and academic support for students who were affected by the incident. The offices also reached out to students’ parents.

“We learned that our students are resilient, and that we are prepared to act and provide support to the university community in a time of crisis,” Kendal Washington White, interim dean of students, said in an email.

Heveri, however, believes the UA can learn some lessons once the re-sentencing provides a better understanding of what happened in 2007.

Although both Galareka and her roommate were in the Native American Student Affairs office’s First Year Scholars program, which aims to boost freshman retention, Heveri said Galareka’s issues went unnoticed.

“I think one letter summed it up best,” Rash said before quoting the letter. “‘Tough love is sometimes warranted, tough love in this case would not change a defendant’s grade so that she could get a scholarship for a university that she was ill-prepared to attend.’”

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the source of a victim impact letter. The story has been corrected to reflect the right source. The Daily Wildcat apologizes for its error.

Follow Stephanie Casanova at Twitter.com/_scasanova_

Follow Rachel McCluskey at Twitter.com/rmcclusk6

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