For much of his 28 years on earth, Kevin Lee Harper has been a toxic leech on society. A high-school dropout and meth-head with seven felonies to his name already, the sloppily tattooed man from Yakima has proven himself a career criminal with seemingly little remorse. And now he stands accused of entering the homes of 61-year-old husband and wife Bill and Pauline Goggin and their 98-year-old mother Bettye and bludgeoning them to death with a blunt object--most likely a hammer.
Yakima County Prosecutor Jim Hagarty should have made a decision on whether to seek the death penalty against Harper this past Friday, but with the defense team's blessing, he's been given until Aug. 1 to decide. In the meantime Yakima County residents are left to wonder: What's one person's life and another person's death actually worth?
As anyone who's monitored what it takes to prove that someone deserves to die will tell you, it's a tedious and expensive process.
The Yakima Herald-Republic reports that the last death-penalty case to be tried in Yakima County took prosecutors more than a year to prepare for and cost taxpayers more than $2 million.
In the end, the accused murderer--Jose Luis Sanchez Jr.--pleaded guilty to a lesser charge.
And even if Harper is convicted and a death sentence handed down, a lengthy appeals process can cost the state millions more.
Still, it could easily be argued that if ever there was a man deserving of a potassium chloride vein-flush, it's Kevin Lee Harper--a seven-time felon who, allegedly, senselessly murdered a trio of defenseless old folks for nothing more than a vehicle (found in a pond nearby after the murder) and some random valuables from the house (loads of which were apparently found on Harper).
His record, as the Herald-Republic reports, is already long and breaks down so:
? July 17, 1998 -- Harper, then 16, is implicated in the burglary and theft of identification, credit and calling cards from a home on Emma Lane in the Wiley City area. He later pleads out to second-degree theft and is sentenced to 30 days in juvenile detention, time-served.
? Oct. 19, 1998 -- Thirty-one days after pleading out to the theft charge, Harper and two friends break into a home in the 2900 block of South 37th Avenue. They take their time despite discovering that one of the occupants, a school-age boy, is home sick. For his plea to residential burglary, Harper is again sentenced to 30 days detention. Police allege three days later he called the home and threatened to kill another occupant. A witness intimidation report was filed by police, but it could not be immediately determined Wednesday if intimidation charges were sought.
? Sept. 22, 2001 -- Harper is arrested after being caught breaking into a car by its owner in the 1400 block of South First Street. Harper initially claims he was only trying to fix the car. But he later pleads guilty to second-degree malicious mischief and is sentenced to 60 days in jail.
? June 22, 2002 -- He and a friend are arrested for swiping a car left idling at 3:30 a.m. in a Prasch Avenue driveway. Harper later pleads guilty to car theft and is sentenced to 45 days on work crew plus one year of community custody, or probation.
? Aug. 23, 2002 -- Harper is arrested for burglarizing a Rutherford Road home near Wiley City, which included the theft of a loaded pistol. He later pleads guilty to felony firearms charges and is ordered into rehab as part of a drug offender sentencing alternative.
? May 25, 2004 -- Harper is found hiding under a vehicle in a towing yard on South 18th Street, where he fled after he and a girlfriend were caught using stolen credit cards at the nearby 7-Eleven Store on Nob Hill Boulevard. He eventually pleads guilty to second-degree possession of stolen property and is sentenced to five months in jail.
? March 7, 2005 -- Caught by a passing police officer as he tried to back a stolen Ford Explorer from a repo lot at Fourth Avenue and Tieton Drive, Harper abandons the SUV and tries to hide in the nearby SECO Rentals lot. The officer finds a small baggie of meth in Harper's shoe. Harper eventually pleads guilty to car theft and is sentenced to one year and one day in prison.
It's a shameful rap to be sure, yet nothing compared to the crimes he's accused of.
But in deciding what Harper's death is worth, it needs to be clear what point Hagerty is trying to make and for whose benefit he is trying to make it.