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Harelson says plan for 'hits' was joke

Jack Harelson knew all along that Brian Doland was a liar, his hit man just a fabrication.

And his plan to hire out the murders of four men who played key roles in his 1996 conviction for grave looting was just big talk between two friends trying to out ugly each other, Harelson testified Monday.

As far as killing somebody, naw, that was just B.S., Harelson told jurors.

Charged with soliciting the murders of a retired judge, an Oregon State Police lieutenant and two former business partners, Harelson took the stand Monday in Jackson County Circuit Court. The 64-year-old Grants Pass resident and his brother-in-law, Donald Fields, also of Grants Pass, were the defense's only witnesses.

Harelson didn't dispute his numerous discussions of killing the four men with Doland, an undercover police informant. Doland recorded those conversations on audiotape, which was played last week for the jury.

— But Harelson told jurors Monday that he was just going along with Doland's game in hopes his new friend would do some odd jobs around his house. When Doland suggested hiring a hit man to kill former Josephine County Circuit Court Judge Loyd O'Neal, OSP Lt. Walt Markee, Lloyd Olds and Richard Ledger, Harelson paid for Olds' murder in black opals. Harelson promised &

36;5,000 in gems, but the opals are actually worth about &

36;300 or &

36;400, Medford jeweler Michael Hansen testified.

Harelson said he knew the stones' true value, proof of his belief that Doland wouldn't deliver Evan, a fictional assassin formerly employed by Central American government officials. Cheating a hit man out of his promised payment would be a scary thing, Harelson testified. He refused to meet Evan.

Police still took Harelson at his word, securing help from Olds to seal the deal. Detectives drove Olds from his Brookings home to an isolated spot on a dead-end forest road and faked Olds' murder scene.

Doland took the Polaroid to Harelson, but his hidden tape recorder malfunctioned, and the conversation was lost. Doland testified last week that Harelson laughed when he saw the photo and said One down, three to go before throwing it into the fire.

Although Harelson admitted under cross-examination that he might have made such a statement, he definitely did not laugh. And he knew the photo was staged.

It just didn't look right, and I knew; he's pulling something, he said.

His first conclusion, Harelson said, was that Doland was working with Olds. He said he took Doland outside and had a conversation with him about trust.

Doland has previously testified to earning more than &

36;65,000 working for various law enforcement agencies since 1999.

Harelson's defense is police entrapment, but Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Lorenzo Mejia denied his motion to dismiss the case based on outrageous conduct by the state and federal governments. Mejia said investigators introduced the fictional hit man to make sure Harelson didn't carry out the murder plan himself.

Arrested Jan. 16, 2003, Harelson is charged with 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. If convicted, he will spend a minimum of 10 years in prison.

Jurors today will deliberate after hearing closing arguments in the case.

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