Conrad family: Swingle broke his promise with Harkey plea deal

Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Ryan Harkey

When charges against Ryan Harkey last week went from murder to manslaughter, the family of the man he stabbed to death outside a Cape Girardeau bar in 2011 said they never saw it coming.

Jerry "Buddy" Conrad's family said on Tuesday, the only man who could make that deal -- former Cape Girardeau County Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle -- already had tried to do so once, and he had promised he wouldn't try it again.

So when the deal was announced Nov. 20 in Franklin County, Conrad's family said, they were blind-sided.

"I was floored," said Lisa Conrad, mother of the victim. "That was the last thing I expected. He had told us, promised us, that he wouldn't do that. Now the man who killed my son will only be in prison four years? How is that justice?" Lisa Conrad said.

On Tuesday, Swingle acknowledged he had told the Conrad family he would not make the offer to Harkey. He had learned of their displeasure, he said, when he put the deal forward months before, only to see it rejected.

When the family complained when the offer initially was made, Swingle said he wouldn't make it again.

But as Swingle was investigating the case and interviewing witnesses, he said he began to see that the facts better fit a charge of second-degree involuntary manslaughter, the charge to which Harkey pleaded guilty last week.

For example, one witness told Swingle that after Conrad got into an altercation with Harkey outside of Rumor's Bar -- their second disagreement of the night -- Conrad chased Harkey across the street, which Swingle suggested was the act of an aggressor.

And after Harkey stabbed Conrad once, some witnesses said, Harkey threw up his hands to signal surrender and that Conrad continued to fight.

Also, Swingle said, Harkey was the one who called 911 that night. He also had told police that he thought a group of people was attacking him, not just Conrad. And the jury would be given instructions to consider the facts from Harkey's point of view.

Harkey had said from the start he was acting in self-defense. Swingle said he began to worry about an acquittal.

Then, Harkey's attorney, Art Margulis, called Swingle a few days before the hearing. Margulis told Swingle, he said, that he might be able to convince his client to take the previous offer that carries a maximum sentence of four years in jail.

So Swingle agreed to extend the deal he previously had made. But he did not know if Harkey would take it until the day of last week's conference. When he learned that Harkey would take it, Swingle agreed.

"As a prosecutor, I changed my mind," Swingle said. "I had just come to believe that the manslaughter charge best fits the facts of what happened. … And while I did tell the Conrads I wouldn't make that offer again, the truth is, they're not my clients. My client was the state of Missouri."

Four years in prison, Swingle said, is better than none.

Lisa Conrad said she isn't buying it. There's no way Harkey was acting in self-defense, she said. She thinks he killed her son in cold blood.

First, she asked, why did Harkey have a knife that night? Her younger son also was at the bar when the two entered into an argument. Buddy Conrad, his mother said, was coming to the defense of a woman on whom Harkey had pulled the knife inside the bar.

"My son was doing the right thing that night. Not Harkey. Now, even if he gets four years, that wouldn't even come close to what I consider justice being done," Lisa Conrad said.

Swingle should have fought harder, she said, even if it meant Harkey went free.

"I would have rather had him fight, stand up at that podium, rather than give up and get out because he got a new job," she said of Swingle.

The Harkey plea was Swingle's last case as county prosecutor. He recently announced his resignation after accepting a position as a federal prosecutor.

Buddy Conrad's fiance, Kate Stovall, also had few nice words for Swingle. Stovall and Buddy Conrad were planing a wedding at Cape Girardeau County Park at the time Conrad was killed. Now, she's lost her best friend, the love of her life and the father to her year-old son.

"There was no justice for my fiancé," she said. "Is Morley happy with this slap on the wrist? All I have left are pictures. I can't believe he let this happen."

Harkey's sentencing hearing has been set for 2 p.m. January 28 in Franklin County, where the case was moved on a change of venue. Conrad's family members are preparing victim impact statements for the judge to hear.

Swingle said that he understands that the Conrads are upset.

"But the thing about being a prosecutor is, you can't make everybody happy all of the time," Swingle said.


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