Aurdrain County teen pleads guilty in Ohio drifter's death

Tuesday, April 12, 2011 | 6:30 p.m. CDT

MEXICO, Mo. — Jordan Clay Harvey was raised to obey his truck-driver father, his attorney said. Even if it meant helping his parents and older brothers kill a man.

Harvey was just 14 years old in December 2009 when 20-year-old James William Boyd McNeely, an Ohio drifter, was killed in the Harvey family's home in Laddonia, a town of about 600 people northeast of Columbia. McNeely's frozen corpse was found days later in the refrigerated compartment of Chester "C.J." Harvey's tractor-trailer.

Jordan Harvey, now 16, pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree murder in a deal that calls for him to be sentenced as a juvenile next month even though he faced an adult charge. His attorney defended the sentencing deal, which would allow Harvey to be released at the age of 18 or 21.

"This was a rural family with a traditional hierarchical structure," attorney George Batek said. "Whatever Dad said was what the family had to do."

Chester Harvey has said in a series of phone interviews with The Associated Press that he picked up McNeely in Denver while driving, and the two became embroiled in a drug scheme because Harvey's family had fallen on hard times while caring for a young child who required daily kidney dialysis.

Chester Harvey claimed he had a falling out with McNeely after the drifter became violent with his wife and three of his sons — a 7-year-old, Jordan Harvey and an older brother who also is charged in the killing.

Chester Harvey offered no specifics, and McNeely's family has said McNeely wouldn't hurt anybody.

Batek said Tuesday that McNeely pulled a knife on Jordan Harvey's 16-year-old brother. The lawyer also said Chester Harvey accused McNeely of sexual misconduct involving Harvey's wife.

Because he was in Waco, Texas, at the time, Chester Harvey called friends and asked them to remove McNeely from his home while he rushed back.

According to a probable cause statement, Jordan Harvey admitted he stood guard over McNeely before the killing and helped hold McNeely down while his father suffocated him.

Thin and frail-looking, with rosy cheeks not yet in need of a shave, Jordan Harvey spoke softly in Audrain County Circuit Court on Tuesday, answering each of the judge's questions with a polite "yes, sir."

Batek said Chester Harvey "smacked (his son Jordan) upside the head" and threatened him with a gun if he didn't help. But while duress is a legally recognized principle, it isn't an excuse for the crime of murder in Missouri.

"You tell me how you defend that," Batek said. "This kid is a great kid I've got on my hands. Now, he's condemned to carrying a murder charge the rest of his life."

Audrain prosecutor Jacob Shellabarger told the judge he supported the deal.

"It holds Jordan accountable for his actions," the prosecutor said after the hearing.

Jordan Harvey's plea came one day after his father pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, armed criminal action, kidnapping and abandonment of a corpse. The father's hearing was moved to Columbia because of the amount of publicity the case has received.

Chester Harvey was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Batek called the plea "an after-the-fact attempt to help out (his family) and accept responsibility."

Oldest son Chad Harvey, who was 19 at the time of the killing, also has pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, kidnapping and abandonment of a corpse.

Angela Harvey and the couple's third son, who was 16 at the time, face murder charges, and three other men have been charged as accomplices in McNeely's kidnapping.

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