Harnage gets Texas plea

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 16, 2010

Fellow escapee and murder suspect James Harnage has made a plea deal to testify against Oscar Roy Doster in the pair’s Texas murder case.

Wednesday, Harnage pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of aggravated robbery for his role in the 2005 shooting death of Dennis Courtney, 56, of Oakwood, Texas.

The two were each charged with capital murder following their March 2005 escape from the Covington County Jail. They stole a car from Kirk’s Funeral Home and fled the county.

The Palestine (Texas) Herald reported Thursday, Courtney was shot and beaten in the head with a hammer on his Texas ranch. He was found dead on the morning of April 7, 2005, one day after his wife had reported him missing, according to Freestone County sheriff’s authorities.

Missing from his property were a one-ton Ford pickup, a four-wheeler and firearms, authorities said.

At the time of his escape, Doster was awaiting trial for the murder of Gantt resident Paul LeMaster. He later was captured in California on April 15, 2005, after walking into a gas station and asking for help for injuries he said he received in a motorcycle crash. It was later discovered that Doster was involved in a four-wheeler accident, and California authorities were able to link him to Courtney’s death.

Doster has since been found guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection in Alabama for LeMaster’s death.

Harnage was caught in Las Vegas on April 23, 2005, in possession of Courtney’s Ford pickup truck. He later pleaded guilty to escape and was sentenced to life in prison in Alabama.

During Wednesday’s proceeding, Harnage told the court that he participated in the theft of property, but did not directly participate in Courtney’s murder.

As part of his plea agreement with the state, Harnage will testify in Doster’s upcoming capital murder trial at the Freestone County Courthouse in Fairfield. In exchange for that testimony, the state and Harnage agreed to a 40-year sentence on the lesser-included offense of aggravated robbery.

For Harnage’s co-defendant, Doster, the trial process is just beginning.

The Texas murder charge against Doster was initially dismissed in January 2009 after the 10th Court of Appeals voted, 2-1, that the federal Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IADA) was violated when the Alabama man was not tried on the murder charge within 120 days of being extradited to Texas. That claim was denied in March by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Jury selection in Doster’s capital murder trial will begin Monday in Fairfield, Texas. It could take up to four weeks to seat the 12-person jury and four alternates.

A total of 350 persons have been called as potential jurors in the case. In addition to individual questioning, each potential juror will be required to fill out an extensive questionnaire, all of which will take several days to process.

Trial proceedings are expected to begin Sept. 7 in Fairfield.