Mo. man found not guilty in drifter’s kidnapping

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The attorney for an eastern Missouri man acquitted in the kidnapping of an Ohio drifter whose frozen corpse later was found in a tractor-trailer said this week’s verdict means his client “can finally put this nightmare behind him.”

Jurors in Boone County found Brandon L. Martin, 22, of Laddonia, not guilty Wednesday. He was living with the family of truck driver Chester “C.J.” Harvey in December 2009 when 20-year-old James McNeely was killed in the basement of Harvey’s home. Harvey, his wife and three of his sons were convicted of participating in the killing.

The Columbia Daily Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/LCeFwg) that because the five Harvey family members avoided public trials by entering pleas in the case, new details about the crime emerged during Martin’s trial. Among them, testimony indicated the Harveys were on methamphetamine during three days leading up to McNeely’s death.

“This was a difficult case with horrible facts,” said Michael Byrne, Martin’s attorney. “We are glad that Brandon’s name has been cleared and he can finally put this nightmare behind him and get on with his life.”

Martin spent 10 months in jail after he was charged.

C.J. Harvey said previously in a series of phone interviews with The Associated Press that he picked up McNeely while driving, and the two became embroiled in a drug scheme because his family had fallen on hard times while caring for a child who required daily dialysis.

Harvey said an alleged attack on his family led to McNeely’s death, but he provided no details. According to testimony at Martin’s trial, however, McNeely attempted to sexually assault two of Harvey’s teenage sons.

C.J. Harvey said he was in Waco, Texas, at the time of the alleged attack. He said he called friends and asked them to take McNeely out of his home while he rushed back.

Investigators said in probable cause statements filed in the case that C.J. Harvey and his eldest son, Chad Harvey, then 19, brought McNeely back to the Harveys’ home in Laddonia, a town of about 600 people northwest of St. Louis, and restrained him on a mattress in the basement.

During Martin’s trial, C.J. Harvey’s wife, Angela, told the jury that Martin at one time watched over McNeely by pointing a gun at him. However, Martin testified that he never held a gun, although he was present in the basement and allowed to come and go as he pleased.

“There was no effort to silence him because he is a part of it,” Assistant Attorney General Monty Platz said.

Martin said C.J. Harvey had threatened to kill him and his family if he didn’t do as instructed, even placing a gun to his head and ordering him to have sex with Angela Harvey. She said C.J. Harvey suspected she and Martin were having a romantic relationship. Martin refused C.J. Harvey’s demand.

C.J. and Chad Harvey previously told authorities that C.J. Harvey suffocated McNeely with a trash bag while Chad Harvey and others wrapped wire around McNeely’s throat, according to a probable cause statement. Martin told the jury that when C.J. Harvey entered the basement with a trash bag, he knew what it was for and darted out of the home.

Afterward, C.J. Harvey became paranoid that the Mafia was going to come after the Harvey family, according to testimony at Martin’s trial. C.J. Harvey said in the interview with The AP that McNeely claimed his father had Mafia ties.

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Information from: Columbia Daily Tribune, http://www.columbiatribune.com

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