—Reprinted with permission of the Columbia Daily Tribune. Editor’s Warning: Parts of the story are graphic in detail.
By Brennan David
Columbia Daily Tribune
A Boone County jury yesterday found a 21-year-old Laddonia man not guilty of kidnapping in relation to the 2009 murder of an Ohio drifter in Audrain County.
Brandon L. Martin was in jail 10 months before standing trial in the case involving the death by asphyxiation of 20-year-old James McNeely in December 2009. At the time of the crime, Martin was living with Chester Harvey and his family, who kidnapped, bound, terrorized and eventually killed McNeely in the basement of their home.
McNeely’s frozen corpse was found in the refrigerated compartment of Chester Harvey’s parked tractor-trailer east of Vandalia.
“This was a difficult case with horrible facts,” said Michael Byrne, Martin’s attorney. “We are glad that Brandon’s name has been cleared and he can finally put this nightmare behind him and get on with his life.”
The two-day jury trial was the first opportunity for the public to learn of the gruesome details that took place Dec. 16-18, 2009. Harvey family members — Chester Harvey, Angela Harvey and sons Ethan, Chad and Jordan Harvey — avoided public trials by settling their charges through plea agreements with the state. Three received life sentences.
Key to the jury’s decision was whether they believed Martin acted in concert with the Harvey family or under duress. Angela Harvey told the jury that Martin at one time watched over McNeely by pointing a gun at him. Martin testified yesterday that he never held a gun but was present in the basement and that he did not escape to alert authorities because he feared retaliation from Chester Harvey. But Martin said he was allowed to come and go as he pleased from the Harvey residence.
“There was no effort to silence him because he is a part of it,” said Assistant Attorney General Monty Platz.
According to testimony, Chester and Chad Harvey brought McNeely back to the Harvey home and restrained him in the basement. They did so because McNeely allegedly attempted to rape Ethan and pulled a knife on Jordan during an argument. McNeely during the argument also allegedly attempted to force Jordan to perform oral sex on him. Chester Harvey and McNeely together were planning robberies and a potential methamphetamine operation. Members of the Harvey family were under the influence of meth during the three-day ordeal that ended with McNeely’s death.
When Chester Harvey entered the basement on Dec. 18 with a trash bag, Martin told the jury he knew what it was for and darted out of the home. “I took off,” he said. “I was expecting a bullet.”
Before the murder, Martin said Chester Harvey threatened to kill Martin and his family if he did not do as instructed. Those threats were tested when Harvey ordered Martin to have sex with his wife. Chester Harvey suspected his wife and Martin were in a romantic relationship, Angela Harvey said.
Chester Harvey placed a gun to Martin’s head at the time of the demand, Martin said. He was unharmed when he refused to have sex with Angela Harvey and continued to come and go from the Harvey home after the murder.
“If I ran, I knew he would come after me or my family,” Martin said.
After the murder, Chester Harvey became paranoid that the Mafia was going to come after the Harvey family. Under the influence, family members began to believe his story.