Ricky Lee Harnish traded a confession in the 1976 Holly Andrews case for a reduced charge with a potential ten-to-24-year sentence -- waaaay too sweet a deal for a guy who admits to raping and murdering a sixteen-year-old girl. Even Clear Creek County Sheriff Don Krueger admits to mixed emotions about this bargain. But Mark Hurlbert, District Attorney for the Fifth Judicial District, says there's a chance the 24-year maximum could be multiplied by more than two if he and his staff determine that Harnish hasn't come clean with them. "If we don't think Mr. Harnish is telling the truth, then he's looking at a ten-to-fifty year sentence," Hurlbert says.
Although Hurlbert declines to detail suspicions about Harnish's account, the potential prevarication doesn't sound like a repeat of 1983, when convicted serial killer Henry Lee Lucas claimed to have slain Andrews -- after which authorities came to the conclusion that he was merely trying to pad his grisly body count by taking credit for this act. Hurlbert adds that the decision by members of his staff to interview Harnish again yesterday wasn't prompted by outcry from Andrews' family or members of the public over the modesty of the murderer's potential time behind bars; doing so was routine, he stresses. Now, he says, "we need to check things out and compare what he told us with the forensic evidence we have." If Harnish "told the truth about his involvement in the crime," the ten-to-24-year range could hold sway. If not, he may be facing an extended stay, and a de facto life-in-prison jolt.
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Harnish's sentencing is slated for November 30, and there's a good chance word about a possible change won't surface before then. "Our evaluation will be complete next week, but I don't know if the courts are going to want to release that or not" before the scheduled hearing. In the meantime, Hurlbert says his office's decision to put Harnish's account to the test will have no impact on the agreement that prompted his confession. "No, the deal's not off," he emphasizes, even if it gets worse from Harnish's perspective.
And better for the rest of humanity.