A jury has convicted a man accused of sexually assaulting a woman and then setting fire to her home with her in it
The courtroom was silent as the jury, after three hours of deliberation, found Sessions Harper guilty of the murder, sexual assault, kidnapping and arson in the death of 22-year old Holly Michael.
"It's a relief," said Anita Michael, Holly's mother. "It was the right verdict and now he will not be able to hurt anyone else."
The verdict capped an emotional, two-week trial. Harper was accused of assaulting Michael at her Fort Dodge home on Jan. 8, 2006, bounding her and then setting fire to her home with her still in it.
Michael was later found conscious and bound in the basement by a firefighter. She was critically burned in the fire and taken to University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City, where she died on Jan. 26, 2006.
Harper, a convicted sex offender, was arrested on Jan. 11, 2006 at a Des Moines apartment. He had served 14 years in prison on a kidnapping charge resulting from a 1989 sexual assault case.
The trial was moved from Webster to Buena Vista County because of pretrial publicity.
Michael's family expressed relief at the verdict.
"The legal part is done but it will still take time for the hole in our hearts to heal -- if it ever does," Anita Michael said.
In Iowa, first-degree murder carries a sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole. Harpers sentencing hearing is set for February 23 at 9:30 a.m. here in Buena Vista County and he will be able to demand a new trail up five days before his hearing.
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