Man Convicted in Plot To Kill Stepmother for Her Estate

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BURNET - Bruce Harkey, 60, of San Saba, will spend the rest of his life in prison after a jury in Burnet convicted him of capital murder in a plot to kill his stepmother and sell off her valuable pecan farm for more than $570,000.

Prosecutors were not seeking the death penalty.

Harkey, 60, was accused of hiring Carl Wade Pressley and Pressley's girlfriend, Lillian King, to kill Bonnie Harkey, 85.

Bonnie Harkey was discovered missing and Karen Johnson, her housekeeper, was found dead March 26, 2012 by Johnson's 10-year-old son at Harkey's San Saba County home.

Harkey's body was discovered that night in a shallow grave in the bottom of a drainage ditch almost 200 miles away in Leon County.

Both Pressley, who was Bonnie Harkey’s adoptive grandson, and his common-law wife have admitted to the killings, but have yet to go to court.

Authorities say Harkey had a deal to sell his stepmother's pecan farm in San Saba County, but couldn't agree with Johnson on how much to give his stepmother.

An arrest affidavit issued at the time of the arrests says Bruce Harkey offered Pressley $5,000 on March 22, 2012 to "make her gone this weekend" and said Pressley would receive $55,000 after Harkey's death.

Pressley told investigators the plan he hatched was to have King, his common-law wife, drop him off at Bonnie Harkey's home where he would hide until King signaled him by ringing the doorbell, the affidavits said.

After a practice run the weekend before, King dropped Pressley off on Sunday, then later called Bonnie Harkey's home phone and rang the doorbell, which was the signal for Pressley to emerge and "take out" the caretaker, the affidavits said.

Pressley said that when the doorbell rang, he went to the front door, grabbed Johnson from behind and pushed her down.

"Pressley advised he did not 'give a second thought' to Johnson and he proceeded with his plan to kill his grandmother," the affidavit said.

Johnson's 10-year-old son later found his mother dead in the doorway of Bonnie Harkey's home at 3799 West U.S. Highway 190, where he often stayed when his mother was working there.

After killing Johnson, the affidavit said, King drove Pressley and the kidnapped woman off.

Pressley, who also confessed to killing Bonnie Harkey, according to the affidavits, led authorities to his grandmother's shallow grave in an RV Park in Hilltop Lakes in Leon County where Pressley had a trailer.

The preliminary autopsy report released at the time says Bonnie Harkey died of a combination of "homicidal violence comprising blunt force head injuries and probable asphyxia including drowning."

Water was found in Bonnie Harkey's lungs, which indicated she was still breathing when she was buried, Leon County Justice of the Peace Doug Preston said after receiving a preliminary autopsy report.

Bonnie Harkey was the owner of Harkey Pecan Farm.

A check of district clerk records in San Saba County showed Bonnie Harkey's children and stepchildren have filed multiple court documents in a fight over who should be listed as Harkey's guardians and what should happen to her considerable fortune.

Bonnie Harkey's estate, which appears to be at the center of the alleged murder-for-hire plot, is valued at just more than $1 million, according to Darrel Spinks, the lawyer who serves as guardian of Harkey's estate.

The estate includes a pecan orchard.

When Bonnie Harkey's husband Riley died, portions of the orchard were willed to Bonnie Harkey and to Riley's sons, John and Bruce, who were Bonnie Harkey's stepsons.

Bonnie Harkey's estate was originally willed to her daughter Connie, the adoptive mother of Carl Wade Pressley but when Connie died, Pressley became the beneficiary, Spinks said.

Pressley, however, sold the inheritance rights to Bruce and John Harkey who are the sole beneficiaries of their stepmother's estate, including the orchard.