Harkey pleads guilty to manslaughter in Cape murder case

Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Ryan Harkey

UNION, Mo. -- When Ryan Harkey was led into a Franklin County courtroom in handcuffs on Tuesday, the 23-year-old Jackson murder defendant was facing the possibility of a lifetime in prison.

But a last-minute plea deal -- two weeks before his trial was set to start -- makes it certain that Harkey will serve a drastically shorter sentence -- no longer than four years.

Harkey pleaded guilty to second-degree involuntary manslaughter in exchange for the dismissal of charges of second-degree murder and armed criminal action. Missouri statute defines this form of involuntary manslaughter as a type that requires reckless behavior and criminal negligence -- not intent to harm or kill.

Harkey was charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the December stabbing death of Jerry "Buddy" Conrad outside Rumors bar on North Spanish Street in Cape Girardeau.

Conrad's family took the news hard. His mother Lisa Conrad and his fiancee were incensed and in tears after the brief hearing some 145 miles from where Conrad died.

"I can't believe it," Lisa Conrad said. "Four years isn't nearly enough. It's not enough. How can four years be enough?"

She said former Cape Girardeau County Prosectuing Attorney Morley Swingle made a similar offer to Harkey months ago and Harkey rejected it. When she heard of the deal reached Tuesday, she said it was her first time learning that it had been revived.

With the plea, Harkey admitted that he caused Jerry Conrad's death by stabbing him while defending himself, Swingle said. The plea says Harkey was "entitled to use a reasonable amount of force to defend himself," but he resorted to deadly force before it was necessary. The plea is an open plea, Swingle said, meaning the judge has complete discretion in sentencing. Possible punishment ranges from one to four years in prison or one day to one year in county jail and/or a fine of up to $5,000.

Swingle said the prosecution will argue for four years in prison.

Asssistant prosecutor Jack Koester, who spoke for the state before the judge, did not return calls seeking comment.

As for Harkey, he received a pat on the back from his lawyer, Art Margulis of St. Louis.

"I'm very pleased with the resolution," said Margulis, a criminal defense lawyer in practice for more than 50 years. "I think it's fair to all parties. It was an unfortunate bar fight that escalated."

Judge Gael Wood has presided over the case since it was sent to Franklin County on a change-of-venue motion. Wood has scheduled Harkey's sentencing for Dec. 15.

Harkey maintained throughout that he acted in self defense during the overnight hours of Dec. 9, 2011, when the two men who apparently didn't know each other began arguing over a woman.

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