Former Ore. Agent Pleads Guilty to Corpse Abuse in Indian Grave Robbing

October 21, 2004

Former insurance agent Jack Harelson pleaded guilty Tuesday to abusing the mummified corpses of two Indian children that police found in his garden, where he had hidden them after digging up their ancient graves in the Nevada desert in the 1980s.

Standing tightlipped in green jail coveralls and plastic sandals, Harelson, 64, answered only, “Yes,” when asked by Jackson County Circuit Judge Lorenzo Mejia if he wanted to plead guilty to two counts of abuse of a corpse.

Prompted by his defense lawyer, Harelson acknowledged that he had treated the corpses in a manner not accepted by the norms of society. He made no mention of how the skulls came to be separated from the rest of the corpses, or where they have been in the years since his 1995 arrest on charges he robbed Indian graves of artifacts.

Harelson still faces trial on charges alleging he tried to pay an undercover police informant $10,000 in opals to kill the police detective and judge who sent him to jail in 1996, and two business partners who put investigators on his trail.

Jury selection was scheduled to begin Wednesday in Jackson County Circuit Court on the remaining charges of criminal conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, solicitation to commit murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Timothy Barnack said he hoped to win a sentence of 10 to 20 years in prison if Harelson is convicted of the remaining charges.

By pleading guilty to abuse of a corpse, Harelson has avoided the inclusion in the rest of his trial of emotional testimony or evidence about the skulls of the two mummified children being separated from the rest of the remains.

Prosecutors, however, are expected to present tape-recorded conversations between Harelson and the undercover police informant he allegedly paid to kill four people.

Prosecutors said the tapes will be played in court, while jurors follow along with transcripts, both in loose-leaf binders given to each juror, and projected on a courtroom screen.

Harelson was convicted in 1996 of Oregon criminal charges related to the grave robbing and sentenced to three months in prison. The Oregon Court of Appeals reversed that conviction on two counts of corpse abuse, finding that the abuse ended when Harelson reburied the headless remains and the statute of limitations had run out.

Two years ago, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management fined him $2.5 million, despite no hopes of being paid, as a message to deter others from damaging rare archaeological sites on federal land before experts can excavate them properly.

Defense lawyer Robert Abel lost a bid to temper the tapes with testimony from a clinical psychologist that Harelson suffers from an unspecified personality disorder, with features of narcism and paranoia.

Judge Mejia reserved a final ruling, but said he was inclined to refuse to allow the testimony from Oregon City psychologist Norbin Cooley because it did not meet a scientific test, and was likely to confuse the jury.

In the course of arguments on the motion, Cooley said via telephone that he interviewed Harelson Oct. 14 in jail, and gave him a test that revealed he had an IQ of 92, which falls in the average range.

Cooley said it was “a strange situation” to find someone like Harelson, with a personality marked both by narcism and paranoia. Those traits would tend to make him want to please someone who gave him attention, such as the undercover police informant Harelson spoke to on the tapes, Cooley added.

In other matters, Mejia ordered that while cameras are permitted in the courtroom, they will not be able to photograph or take video of two undercover policemen and the undercover informant.

Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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