BROWNWOOD (April 20, 2012)—The lawyer who is representing the stepson of a murdered San Saba woman who is accused of plotting to have his stepmother killed says his client can’t get a fair trial in San Saba and wants the trial moved.
Rudy Taylor said Thursday he’ll seek a change of venue very soon for Bruce Harkey’s pending trial.
Harkey, 59, is charged with criminal solicitation of capital murder in the March 26 death of his stepmother, Bonnie Harkey.
Prosecutors say they believe Bruce Harkey conspired to hire another man to kill his stepmother so Bruce Harkey could gain control of her fortune.
Taylor said Thursday he believes it is impossible to find an unbiased jury in the town of about 3,000 residents.
Taylor said media coverage of the brutal murder isn’t the real issue, its “word-of-mouth around here,” he said.
He said the rumor mills in San Saba county have far out-paced the truth and because of that he believes there is no one in the county who hasn’t heard of, and probably already decided, Bruce Harkey’s guilt.
Bruce Harkey and the man he is accused of hiring in the murder plot both were in court in San Saba on Thursday.
Bruce Harkey, 59, through his lawyer, was successful in getting his bond lowered from $500,000 to $400,000, but he remained in the Taylor County Jail Thursday afternoon.
Carl Wade Pressley, 28, the accused murderer, had asked District Judge Dan Mills to appoint a new lawyer for him after Pressley fired his first appointed counsel but the judge didn’t make a new appointment.
Bonnie Harkey, whose body was found March 26 in a shallow grave in the bottom of a drainage ditch in Leon County, nearly 200 miles from her San Saba County home, was the victim of a murder-for-hire plot that also claimed the life of her housekeeper, Karen Johnson, according to affidavits released in March.
A preliminary autopsy report said Bonnie Harkey was likely unconscious, but may still have been alive when she was buried in Leon County.
The affidavits say that Harkey's stepson, who was arrested March 28 on a criminal solicitation of capital murder warrant, offered the woman's grandson, $500 on March 22 to "make her gone this weekend" and said Pressley would receive $55,000 after Bonnie Harkey's death.
Bruce Harkey, according to his lawyer, has spent time in federal prison before, in 2003, on a federal firearms charge.
Pressley told investigators the plan he hatched was to have his common-law wife Lillian King, 25, drop him off at Bonnie Harkey's home where he would hide until King signaled him by ringing the doorbell, the affidavits said.
After a practice run the Friday before her death, King dropped Bonnie Harker off on Sunday, then later called Bonnie Harkey's home phone and rang the doorbell, which was the signal for Pressley to emerge and 'take out" the caretaker, the affidavits said.
Pressley said that when the doorbell rang, he went to the front door, grabbed Johnson from behind and pushed her down.
"Pressley advised me he did not 'give a second thought' to Johnson and he proceeded with his plan to kill his grandmother," the affidavit said.
Johnson's 10-year-old son found his mother dead Sunday in the doorway of Bonnie Harkey's home at 3799 W. U.S. Highway 190, where he often stayed when his mother was working there.
Johnson may have died of a heart attack, according to the affidavits, but a preliminary autopsy report said a ruling on the cause of death was pending.
After killing Johnson, the affidavit said, King drove Pressley and the kidnapped woman off.
Pressley, who also confessed to killing Bonnie Harkey, according to the affidavits, led authorities to his grandmother's shallow grave in an RV Park in Hilltop Lakes in Leon County where Pressley had a trailer.
A preliminary autopsy report said Bonnie Harkey died of a combination of "homicidal violence comprising blunt force head injuries and probable asphyxia including drowning."
Water was found in Bonnie Harkey's lungs, which indicated she was still breathing when she was buried, Leon County Justice of the Peace Doug Preston said.
Bonnie Harkey was the owner of Harkey Pecan Farm.
A check of district clerk records in San Saba County showed Bonnie Harkey's children and stepchildren have filed multiple court documents in a fight over who should be listed as Bonnie Harkey's guardians and what should happen to her considerable fortune.
Bonnie Harkey's estate, which appears to be at the center of the alleged murder-for-hire plot, is valued at must more than $1 million, according to Darrel Spinks, the lawyer who serves as guardian of Harkey's estate.
The estate includes a pecan orchard.
When Bonnie Harkey's husband Riley died, portions of the orchard were willed to Bonnie Harkey and to Riley's sons, John and Bruce, who were Bonnie Harkey's stepsons.
Bonnie Harkey's estate was originally willed to her daughter Connie, the adoptive mother of Carl Wade Pressley but when Connie died, Pressley became the beneficiary, Spinks said.
Pressley, however, sold the inheritance rights to Bruce and John Harkey who are the sole beneficiaries of their stepmother's estate, including the orchard.