Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger announced that the Missouri Supreme Court has issued its mandate affirming the conviction of Ricky Harding, formerly of Mexico, Mo., for the May 2014 killing of Summer Harding of rural Mexico. Harding was convicted in December 2015 after a week-long trial held in Warrenton on a change of venue.
The court ordered a technical correction to the Endangering the Welfare of a Child sentencing documents so they matched the jury’s verdict, but in all other respects affirmed Harding’s conviction for the murder of his wife in front of their children in May, 2014.
Harding was convicted of Murder in the Second Degree, Domestic Assault, Unlawful Possession of a Firearm by a Felon, as well as four counts of misdemeanor Endangering the Welfare of a Child, for a May 25, 2014 shooting at his rural Mexico home that killed Summer (Hickman) Harding, 34, of Mexico. Harding is a prior and persistent felony offender. The jury found Harding guilty of the charges after deliberating for nearly five hours.
Shellabarger, along with former Assistant Prosecuting Attorney now Assistant United States Attorney Ashley Turner, tried the case in five days from November 30-December 4, 2015, in Warrenton to a Warren County jury of eight women and four men. Harding was sentenced by 12th Circuit Senior Judge Keith M. Sutherland on February 4, 2016, to 30 years imprisonment for the murder.
“The appellate court’s decision means criminal decisions have consequences,” Shellabarger said in a press release. “Ricky Harding’s decision to bring an illegal firearm into his home caused Summer’s death, and because he was a felon, the crime’s effect was amplified. A stolen 1911 model Colt .45 handgun, combined with domestic violence, led to an argument and a struggle over the gun that led to the fatal shot. After the shot tore through her body, Ricky left her to bleed to death as her children watched and waited in the dark for help to arrive. This cowardly action, taken because Ricky knew he was a felon and couldn’t possess the gun in the first place, was appalling and traumatic. The shock from watching their mother bleed to death as their father ran away shook these children to their core.”
“All of this was preventable,” Turner said following the conviction in 2015. “Domestic violence is a cycle that feeds on silence and fear. Fear is what Ricky Harding used to maintain power and control over his family, and when Summer stood up to him, there were consequences. He didn’t want ‘his’ authority questioned, and when Summer took his gun and walked away, Ricky was angry and grabbed Summer, turning her around and struggling over the loaded, ready to fire handgun. During the struggle, the gun discharged and Summer died.”
The murder occurred in the early morning hours of Sunday, May 25, 2014 at a house on Audrain Road 923. Audrain County 9-1-1 took a phone call from one of the children, who said Summer had been shot and was bleeding “a lot.” Ricky Harding fled from the scene and was eventually apprehended at Audrain Medical Center, where he tried to see Summer during medical treatment. Summer Harding died without regaining consciousness or heartbeat. After initially lying to investigators, Harding said he bought the .45. One of the children said Harding had the gun in the house, loaded, the day before the murder.
“The jury was very attentive to the evidence, and listened intently to the facts through this trial.” Shellabarger said. “I commend them for their focus, persistence and dedication to a just result. This jury has delivered a powerful message to this community and to these families that choices & actions have consequences, and those who take a life will be held accountable. The Audrain County Sheriff’s Office deserves to be commended for its caring, compassionate and thorough investigation in this case. In responding, Lt. Steve Kennemore and Conservation Agent Norman Steelman quickly and professionally comforted the children and began to help their mother. Little Dixie Fire Protection District and Audrain Ambulance District personnel took quick, appropriate medical care to give Summer a chance to live, and the SSM St. Mary’s Audrain staff responded rapidly to try to repair the gunshot wound. Rainbow House Child Advocacy Center in Columbia allowed these children to talk about what they saw in a neutral, child-friendly manner, and gave their voice to the investigation and the court proceedings. In the murder’s aftermath, our community came together to protect, serve and heal these children: Children’s Division workers, Juvenile Officers, Arthur Center, ACCIS, Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA), Southside Christian Church and Tim Taylor, among many others, have given selflessly to ensure the children can process their emotions and heal from their loss. Our team’s dedication to build a relationship of trust, respect and love with these children meant long hours of preparation, building rapport, and working with their care team. Together as a team, our experience, knowledge and combined resources which allowed this case to be fully investigated and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law and allowing justice to prevail by convicting Ricky Harding for Summer’s death and all the collateral damage he left behind. Crime victim advocacy is so important. Our victim’s advocate Leigh Thomas has been patient, caring and kind beyond measure and supportive through the entire criminal justice process, and will continue to provide that wrap-around support that is crucial for victims of violent crimes: that they are heard in by the Court, supported, safe, and protected. Ricky Harding’s choice to bring an illegal firearm and leave it loaded in his couch, ready to fire, took a woman’s life, a daughter from her father, a mother from her four children, and a light from this world. I hope this verdict, sentence and the appellate court’s affirming the conviction provide a measure of comfort for their pain in knowing our criminal justice system held Ricky accountable.”