Fri, 05 Feb 2010 17:50:35 GMT — KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) - An eastern Missouri truck driver accused of helping to kill a drifter said he became embroiled in a drug scheme with the victim when the family fell on hard times while caring for a gravely ill child.
But in a series of interviews with The Associated Press, murder suspect Chester "C.J." Harvey Jr. said it was an alleged attack on his wife and three of his five sons - not drugs - that led to the death of James William Boyd McNeely. The body of the 20-year-old was found Dec. 22 in the refrigerated compartment of Harvey's rig.
"That man will never hurt another child," Harvey said in one of the interviews. "And as far as I'm concerned, that's a great thing."
Harvey, his wife, Angela, and three of his sons - ages 19, 16 and 14 - face first-degree murder charges in Audrain County Circuit Court. Three other men have been charged as accomplices with kidnapping McNeely.
However, Harvey repeatedly insisted his wife and the two younger boys are innocent in the killing, which he said was part of an "unbelievable" story spanning multiple states and including others who have yet to be charged.
Audrain County Jacob Shallabarger said he couldn't comment on Harvey's claims and said the investigation was ongoing.
The victim's family has said McNeely, nicknamed "Bo Bo," had a turbulent childhood, spending part of it in foster care after his father was convicted in the stomping death of a toddler and his mother lost custody of - and interest in - her children.
Despite the upheaval, they said it seemed implausible that McNeely would have hurt anyone.
"Bo Bo was kind and gentle," said Jackie Jewell, an aunt who adopted McNeely when he was a teenager. "I don't see him doing harm to anybody."
The 38-year-old Harvey said he met McNeely in November at a Charleston, Tenn., truck stop and gave him a ride after the younger man told him he was hitchhiking across the country to meet a toddler son whom he claimed he had just learned about. Relatives of McNeely have said he had a son during a brief marriage and knew of his birth.
Harvey said that while helping McNeely get closer to his destination of Columbus, Ohio, the conversation shifted to drugs, with McNeely talking about the chance to earn big money.
Harvey, who said he had dabbled in drugs, was desperate for cash. He already had filed for bankruptcy as his wife cared full-time for their 9-year-old son who required daily dialysis.
To make ends meet, Harvey had been making it look like his wife, also a licensed trucker, was operating his rig part of the time. That allowed him to skirt federal limits on how many hours drivers can spend on the road and go as far as "my body would allow," he said.
Two days after giving McNeely a ride, the young man called Harvey back. Harvey said that when one of his routes brought him close to Columbus, Ohio, he picked up McNeely and took him to Harvey's home in Laddonia, Mo., a town of about 600 people northwest of St. Louis. Harvey said McNeely and his 19-year-old son, Chad, became fast friends.
But Harvey said he and his wife were getting cold feet even before McNeely and Harvey's oldest son left on a trip to see McNeely's family and get seed money for the drug plot. By then it seemed too late to back out, despite the frightening stories McNeely told, including that his father had ties to the mafia.
"Bo Bo, he was a big bragger," Jewell, his aunt, said, adding that he did it because he never had much. "He may have made brags that he knew people in the mafia just to make himself look bigger."
During the visit to McNeely's family in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, McNeely mentioned a plan to transport drugs around the country in C.J. Harvey's rig, his family said. Harvey didn't talk in detail about the scheme, although he said "a lot" of drugs were involved and that some were in his rig when McNeely's body was found.
Harvey said it was mid-December when he heard about the alleged attack on his wife and three of his sons - ages 7, 14 and 16. He offered few details about what happened, saying only that his youngest son was badly bruised and his wife was so distraught that she made repeated suicide attempts.
Because he was in Waco, Texas, at the time, he called friends and asked them to take McNeely out of his home while he rushed there. He insisted that McNeely went willingly.
Harvey said he feared going to police and was worried McNeely would post bond and hurt his family.
In the AP interviews, Harvey refused to discuss the killing, but investigators allege C.J. and Chad Harvey brought McNeely back to the Harveys' home and restrained him on a mattress in the basement. The father and son told authorities C.J. Harvey suffocated McNeely the next day with a trash bag while Chad Harvey and others wrapped wire around McNeely's throat, according to a probable cause statement.
Now jailed without bond, Harvey stays awake thinking about his family. The sick 9-year-old is now staying at a hospital, and Harvey's 7-year-old son is with relatives.
He says he's particularly concerned about his 14- and 16-year-old sons, who will face a hearing later this month or in March to determine whether they will be tried as adults or remain in juvenile court.
"I'm not worried about me," he said, even though the death penalty is being considered in the case. "I'm worried about the other people who shouldn't even be here and haven't really done anything. Their lives are shattered because of the situation and what it came to.
"It's not their fault. He's the one that chose to do the things he did."
Neither Angela nor Chad Harvey responded to letters sent to the jail requesting interviews. The attorneys for Angela Harvey and the three teenagers either declined to comment or didn't return phone messages.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)