^
Keep Westword Free
4
| Crime |

Sheriff has "mixed emotions" about plea deal with rapist/murderer Ricky Lee Harnish

Earlier today, I expressed astonishment that Ricky Lee Harnish, who's admitted to having raped and murdered teenager Holly Andrews in 1976, will likely face a sentence that maxes out at 24 years. Clear Creek Sheriff Don Krueger, in whose jurisdiction Andrews' body was found, understands this reaction -- because he's feeling something like it.

"I'm having sort of mixed emotions," he says. "It doesn't seem like that should be enough. But at 54 years of age, I don't know that it's not going to be almost a life sentence."

Krueger has been living with the Andrews case for a long time. "This is my fifteenth year as sheriff, but I was a reserve back in '76," he says. "I didn't get too involved with it back then, but we've brought it up a few times since. One of the areas we explored had to do with Henry Lee Lucas" -- a confessed serial killer who claimed Andrews as one of his victims. As time wore on, however, law enforcement agencies here and elsewhere came to believe that Lucas seriously embellished his track record.

Then, in 2005, Harnish was arrested on a drug charge, and DNA taken from him at the time matched evidence in the Andrews matter. Add his proximity to Andrews -- his parents lived near her mother's house, where she was seen shortly before her disappearance -- and the case seemed beyond solid. But Krueger says a conviction was hardly guaranteed.

"Everybody watches CSI, and they think DNA is the answer, but that's not necessarily true," he says. "You have to have other elements in order to convince a jury that this is the only way something could have happened. And this happened 33 years ago. That makes it even tougher, especially when you don't have any witnesses."

I Support
  • Local
  • Community
  • Journalism
  • logo

Support the independent voice of Denver and help keep the future of Westword free.

At least Harnish's acceptance of a second-degree-murder plea removes the possibility "that he could be walking away free," Krueger says -- and it helps the Sheriff's Office from a practical standpoint, too. Personnel were gearing up for a three-week trial begining with jury selection on Friday at the same time numerous members of the small staff were dealing with having contracted swine flu.

Still, such considerations are minor in comparison to the resolution of a case that seemed fated to linger indefinitely. "At least we finally have closure," Krueger says.

If only Harnish's cell door was scheduled to stay closed for longer.

Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.

We use cookies to collect and analyze information on site performance and usage, and to enhance and customize content and advertisements. By clicking 'X' or continuing to use the site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. To find out more, visit our cookies policy and our privacy policy.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.

 

Join the Westword community and help support independent local journalism in Denver.