Harkey gets four-year prison sentence in 2011 fatal stabbing

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

UNION, Mo. -- Ryan Harkey, the Jackson man who insisted from the start he was acting in self-defense, will spend no more than four years in prison -- and likely much less -- after a sentencing hearing Monday in a Franklin County courtroom.

Franklin County Judge Gael Wood handed down a sentence that didn't stray from the deal reached in November that reduced Harkey's second-degree murder charge -- and its possible life prison sentence -- to manslaughter in exchange for the 24-year-old man's guilty plea.

The judge, in the case transferred from Cape Girardeau County, also dismissed a weapons charge that was filed against Harkey after police said they took him into custody while in possession of a knife with a blade with blood on it. A misdemeanor count of paraphernalia possession also was tossed out by the judge.

Only an objection from the judge would have voided the agreement, brokered by former Cape Girardeau County prosecuting attorney Morley Swingle and St. Louis defense attorney Art Margulis. The manslaughter charge meant Harkey legally admitted to criminal negligence in the death of Jerry "Buddy" Conrad, who was described at the time of his death as an affable man who doted on his children. With no aggravating or mitigating factors, Harkey could be released in about 18 months under Missouri sentencing laws.

"All things considered, it was a result we can live with," Margulis said. "It was a tragedy for everyone concerned, and we all know it's an ill wind that blows nobody good."

Several with ties to the defendant and the victim traveled the 150 or so miles from Cape Girardeau to Union, Mo., where the case was transferred at Harkey's request. Parents of both sides sat in the gallery, including Conrad's mother Lisa, his fiancee Kate, and Harkey's mother Jane and stepfather Bruce.

Other than Harkey's lawyer, few others involved wanted to comment on a matter that started more than a year ago when Conrad was found collapsed on the front lawn of Cape Girardeau's Common Pleas Courthouse. Members of Conrad's family did not return calls. Neither did Swingle or Cape Girardeau County assistant prosecutor Jack Koester.

Conrad's family, based on their reaction to the deal in November, could not have been pleased with the outcome.

Lisa Conrad said then that the deal represented a broken promise on Swingle's part because he had vowed to the family that he would not make another offer after Harkey rejected a similar one months before. When the family caught wind of the first offer, Conrad said, they let Swingle know of their displeasure. So when she and others in the Conrad family drove to Franklin County for the plea two months ago, the news "floored" them.

"Now, the man who killed my son will only be in prison four years," she said. "How is that justice?"

Swingle's last official act as prosecutor before he began his new duties as a federal prosecutor was the Harkey deal. Swingle said in November that he had told the Conrad family he would not make another reduced plea deal to Harkey.

But as he investigated the case, he said, Swingle became less certain that a jury would reject Harkey's self-defense claim. One witness told Swingle that after Conrad got into an altercation with Harkey outside of Rumor's Bar, their second of the night, it was Conrad who chased Harkey across the street, which suggested to Swingle the act of an aggressor.

And when Harkey stabbed Conrad once, some witnesses said, Harkey threw up his hands to signal surrender and Conrad continued to fight. Harkey was the one who dialed 911, Swingle said, and he repeatedly told police that he thought a group of people was attacking him, not just Conrad. Swingle also noted that the jury would be given instructions to consider the facts from Harkey's point of view.

Swingle said he began to worry about an acquittal.

"As a prosecutor, I changed my mind," Swingle said.

For the Conrad family, however, the end of one courtroom journey is about to be replaced by another.

Buddy Conrad's brother, Timothy, was charged with four counts of vehicular assault for allegedly for driving under the influence in a wreck that left three others with injury. Timothy Conrad and his friends were out drinking on the anniversary of his brother's death.

Police say Timothy Conrad tried to convince them that someone else was driving.

Timothy Conrad's arraignment is set for Monday.



Pertinent address:

400 E. Locust St., Union, Mo.

Common Pleas Courthouse, Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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