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Corpse desecration pleaded out of murder-for-hire trial

Jury selection starts today in Grants Pass man's alleged plot to kill 4 men

The abuse of two American Indian corpses will not be a factor in this week's trial of a convicted grave-looter.

Jack Lee Harelson will still face a jury on accusations that he hired out the murders of a Josephine County judge, an Oregon State Police investigator and two business partners who turned him in.

To keep jurors from hearing about his possession of two Paiute children's skulls, Harelson pleaded guilty Tuesday in Jackson County Circuit Court to two counts of abusing a corpse, a felony. His sentencing on those charges was delayed.

Harelson, 64, removed the children's mummified remains 20 years ago from a cave in Nevada's Black Rock Desert. He was convicted of possessing them illegally in 1996 after OSP Sgt. Walt Markee unearthed the headless corpses in the yard of Harelson's Grants Pass home.

Markee's continued quest to find the missing skulls led him to a hit list that included his own name.

— Not suspecting he was working with a police informant, Harelson allegedly promised a fictional hit man &

36;10,000 in opals to murder Lloyd Olds, a former business partner who testified against him in 1996.

The informant, Brian Doland, set up the killing after Harelson gave him the missing skulls. Doland recorded his conversations with Harelson on audio tape.

Harelson also allegedly solicited the murders of Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Loyd O'Neal and Curry County resident Richard Ledger, who co-owned an opal mine with Olds and Harelson.

If convicted, Harelson will likely spend 10 to 12 years in prison, prosecutors said. He faces charges of attempted aggravated murder, conspiracy to commit aggravated murder, four counts of solicitation for murder and two counts of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Jury selection in the trial is expected to begin Wednesday.

Harelson will claim a defense of police entrapment and has moved for the case's dismissal based on outrageous conduct by the federal and state governments.

Hoping to bolster the entrapment defense, Harelson's attorney, Bob Abel, questioned an Oregon City forensic psychologist Tuesday about Harelson's interaction with Doland. Because he suffers from a personality disorder, Harelson's statements may not reflect his true intent, psychologist Norbin Cooley said.

Isn't that just about everybody? asked Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia. The judge later said he was disinclined to allow Cooley's testimony in trial because its relevance was minimal.

Prior to Tuesday's plea, Mejia also denied Harelson's attempt to separate the corpse abuse case from the murder-for-hire counts. Abel argued that, if allowed, testimony of Harelson's possession of the Indian skulls would unfairly prejudice jurors.

Worrying that newspaper reports could contaminate the court's potential jury pool, state prosecutor Clay Johnson asked Mejia to restrict members of the press covering the case. The judge said he had no control over media accounts of the trial.

Jack Harelson, 64, pleaded guilty in Medford Tuesday to charges of corpse abuse for severing and possessing the heads of two mummified indian children he dug up in Nevada. He still faces a host of other serious charges in the case. Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman