An Oklahoma family upset over a plea bargain in a murder case

Tuesday, February 8th 2005, 10:38 am
By: News On 6

A Green Country family is split over a plea bargain reached in the case of a woman's tragic death. It happened more than a year ago.

The husband claimed he was searching their home for a burglar and accidentally shot his wife in the head.

News on 6 crime reporter Lori Fullbright says Gerald Harvel was originally charged with first degree murder, but in a plea deal Monday, prosecutors lowered the charge to manslaughter with a four year prison term. That outrages many of Karen Harvel's family members.

Karen Harvel had a full life, mother to two grown daughters, grandmother of two and recently married. However, not all was perfect. Her husband Gerald had been charged once for domestic violence, so when prosecutors say he changed his story about what how she died on February 1st, 2004, they charged him with murder. They say two things about his story remained the same, that Gerald said he was drunk and that he shot his wife, mistaking her for a burglar. They say Karen was shot in the front of the head with the gun held about a foot in front of her outstretched hand. Since they couldn't prove the couple had been fighting or that Gerald was lying, they opted to lower the charge from murder to manslaughter.

Karen's father, brother and sisters, are devastated and furious. Karen’s father Darrell Tatum: "I just can't believe it. Why it happened. Let 12 people decide. If they find him innocent, fine, I'll live with that, but, this is just unbelievable." These family members had agreed to a plea bargain that would have Gerald spend 10 years in prison followed by 10 years probation. They say they did not agree to the new deal that means four years in prison and six years probation.

Gerald is required to serve 85% of his time, which means about three years and four months actual prison time. Karen’s sister Jeanne Ramsey: "How is it that our system works so that two lawyers who never knew her and never tried to get to know us, can decide what her life was worth?" These family members feel in some way they failed Karen, failed to be her voice, to have her story heard.

Karen Harvel's mother and two daughters are also outraged, but for a different reason altogether. They believe her death was just a tragic accident and they don't want to see Gerald Harvel spend even one day in prison.