Mo. man pleads guilty to murdering Ohio drifter

One of five members of a Missouri family accused of killing an Ohio drifter in their basement pleaded guilty to second-degree murder on Tuesday.

Chad Michael Harvey is the first member of his family to plead guilty in the killing of James William Boyd McNeely. Harvey's father, stepmother and two younger brothers are also charged with murdering the 20-year-old man last December.

Harvey, 20, originally was charged with first-degree murder, but pleaded guilty in exchange for the reduced murder charge, said Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger. He also pleaded guilty to kidnapping and abandonment of a corpse in Boone County, where his case was heard on a change of venue.

He still faces a charge of armed criminal action but a determination on that charge won't be made until he is sentenced Dec. 20, Shellabarger said. The plea deal doesn't include a sentencing agreement, and Shellabarger vowed to talk again to McNeely's family before making a recommendation.

"The thing I have been saying and will continue to say is that although this is a difficult time for the McNeely family, I hope this plea will in some way provide them some closure for the loss of James McNeely," Shellabarger told The Associated Press by phone.

Harvey's attorney, Stephan Dawn Bell, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

Shellabarger declined to answer questions about whether Chad Harvey will be called as a witness in his father's case, which is set for trial next month. He referred questions to court filings that accompanied the plea and weren't immediately available.

Harvey's father, Chester "C.J." Harvey Jr., his stepmother, Angela, and two brothers, 14 and 16 at the time, face murder charges. Three other men have been charged as accomplices with kidnapping McNeely.

C.J. Harvey, a trucker, said in a series of phone interviews with The Associated Press earlier this year that he picked up McNeely while driving a route. He said he became embroiled in a drug scheme with him because his family had fallen on hard times while caring for a child who required daily dialysis.

Eventually, he took McNeely to his home in Laddonia, Mo., a town of about 600 people northwest of St. Louis. Harvey said McNeely and his son, Chad, became fast friends.

But Harvey said it wasn't drugs but an alleged attack on his wife and three of his sons — ages 7, 14 and 16 at the time — that led to McNeely's death. Harvey offered no specifics, and McNeely's family said McNeely wouldn't hurt anybody.

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

In the AP interviews, Harvey refused to discuss the killing, but investigators say C.J. and Chad Harvey brought McNeely back to the Harveys' home and restrained him on a mattress in the basement. The father and son told authorities C.J. Harvey suffocated McNeely the next day with a trash bag while Chad Harvey and others wrapped wire around McNeely's throat, according to a probable cause statement.

Authorities found McNeely's body Dec. 22. C.J. Harvey has insisted his wife and juvenile sons are innocent.