Police Rule Out Judge in Killing of Ex-Husband

Murder Investigation
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Police investigating the shooting death of the ex-husband of a Sparks judge have ruled out the judge as a suspect and are focusing their probe on an ex-felon who says the victim stabbed him before the fatal shooting.

The suspected homicide of Miles Deriso, 44, a former musician and father of four in a residential neighborhood outside Reno, has perplexed police who've been unable to locate the gun or explain why Deriso suggested in his dying moments that he was the victim of a murder-for-hire.

For the first time since the Dec. 1 killing, Sparks police late Thursday identified the stabbing victim found near the crime scene as an acquaintance of Deriso who lived in the same neighborhood.

Jerry Harkins, 54, is "not being listed as a suspect, but is obviously a strong focus of the investigation," the Sparks Police Department said in a statement.

A next-door neighbor who said he called 911 after Deriso stumbled into his house with a gunshot wound to the stomach told police that Deriso said the shooter was a man named Jerry who told Deriso he'd been hired to kill him.

Police found Harkins near the scene of the shooting "within five minutes" of responding to the 911 call about 2 a.m. Dec. 1, Sparks police Commander Bob Schmidt told The Associated Press on Thursday.

Harkins "made statements that indicated he was in fact at the residence but denied shooting Miles Deriso," Schmidt said.

"He indicated there was an altercation between the two of them and he was stabbed by the victim," he said.

Investigators have found no evidence to either corroborate or discount the murder-for-hire theory, Schmidt said.

"I can't dispute what the dead guy said. The neighbor heard it. He gave that information to us that night," he told AP.

"He told the (911) dispatcher that his neighbor just came through the door and said he had been shot and to send an ambulance."

The dispatcher told the next-door neighbor, Doug Whitten, to ask if Deriso knew who shot him.

"So he asked and he says, `Yeah, he said Jerry did it.' Coincidentally, within five minutes we find a guy named Jerry," Schmidt said.

Harkins told police in the hours after the killing he had been at Deriso's house, got into an argument and fought with him before Deriso stabbed him with a knife, Commander said.

But Harkins said he left the home and had no knowledge of the shooting. He has refused police requests for a second interview since then, Schmidt said.

Police recovered the knife believed to have been used in the stabbing but have not found a gun, "which is really weird," Schmidt said.

"We looked in yards. We did a house to house search. We looked in the ditch between Sparks Boulevard and even vacuumed out the storm drain between where the shooting took place," he said.

The Daily Sparks Tribune first reported Wednesday that Harkins had been a target of the investigation since the day of the shooting. The newspaper cited search warrants that said "there is probable cause to believe that the crime of murder has been committed and Jerry Harkins is a suspect."

The investigation has been slowed by a backlog of work at the Washoe County sheriff's crime lab, where they are awaiting results of ballistics tests, potential gun powder samples and fingerprints, Schmidt said.

Tests also are pending on bullets they found in a search of Harkins' home Dec. 5. They are "similar to ammunition" found at Deriso's home, "but if it's the same brand or not, I don't know," Schmidt said.

AP was unable to reach Harkins for comment Thursday night. He does not have a listed telephone number. Schmidt said he did not know if Harkins had a lawyer.

Harkins told the Tribune on Wednesday, "I'm not interested in talking to anyone."

Schmidt said investigators considered the possibility that Deriso's ex-wife - Sparks Justice of the Peace Susan Deriso - could have been involved but since have ruled that out.

"There's nothing to implicate her at all," Schmidt said. "From talking to family members and friends, their relationship improved immensely after they divorced."

Harkins was convicted in Oregon in 1991 of felony possession of methamphetamine and was sentenced to 30 days in the county jail, the Tribune reported. In 1992, he was sentenced to three years' probation as a felon in possession of a firearm.

He was convicted in Washoe County in 1994 for domestic assault against his wife. He pleaded no contest to a 1995 charge of driving under the influence, the newspaper said.