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Grave looter's trial begins today

A convicted Indian grave-looter charged with scheming to kill police, a judge and former business partners will stand trial today.

Jack Lee Harelson, 64, of Grants Pass, is accused of orchestrating a murder plot aimed at former Curry County Municipal Judge Lloyd Olds. Harelson's former business partner, Olds testified in 1996 that Harelson looted indian graves. Harelson was convicted of illegally excavating a cave in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, and federal authorities in 2002 fined him &

36;2.5 million.

Prosecutors say Harelson commissioned Olds' murder in January 2003 through Brian Doland, an undercover informant working for Oregon State Police. Olds' death was staged, and Doland presented Harelson with a photograph of the grave as proof that the crime had been carried out.

The fictional hit man was promised &

36;10,000 in opals as payment, investigators said. Olds once shared interest in an opal mine with Harelson and Curry County resident Richard Ledger, who also was on Harelson's hit list, police said.

Harelson faces charges of attempted aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, four counts of solicitation for murder, two counts of abusing a corpse and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm. If convicted, he will spend a minimum of 10 years in prison.

— Harelson will claim police entrapment as his defense, according to documents filed in Jackson County Circuit Court. His attorney, Bob Abel, also has argued for dismissal of the case based on outrageous conduct by the federal and state governments.

OSP investigators said they stumbled onto the alleged murder plot while continuing their investigation into Harelson's suspected sale of items taken from Indian graves. Investigators said Harelson also sought to kill Josephine County Judge Loyd O'Neal, who presided over the 1996 trial; OSP Sgt. Walt Markee; and ex-wife wife Pamela Ralph.

In 1995, Markee unearthed the headless remains of two mummified Paiute Indian children wrapped in garbage bags and buried in Harelson's yard. Two skulls ' presumably belonging to the 2,000-year-old corpses ' remained missing until 2002 when Harelson gave them to Doland, who turned them over to police.

A partner in her ex-husband's pot hunting during the early 1980s, Ralph recounted for police the excavation of Elephant Mountain Cave. Experts said the cave could have been one of the most significant archaeological sites in the Great Basin prior to the couple's careless digging.

Abel has objected to prosecutors' plans to portray Harelson's possession of the Paiute children's remains on grounds that such information would prejudice jurors. Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia allowed prosecutors to proceed on the charges of corpse abuse.

Previewed in this month's issue of Outside magazine, the trial is scheduled to run through Oct. 29 in Circuit Court.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail