A jury has found Ricky Harding, Jr., age 35 of Mexico, Mo., guilty of the felonies of Murder in the Second Degree, Domestic Assault in the Third Degree, and 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, age 34, of Mexico.
The jury found Harding guilty of the charges after deliberating for nearly five hours.
Audrain County Prosecuting Attorney Jacob Shellabarger and Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ashley Turner tried the case in five days, from November 30-December 4 in Warrenton to a Warren County jury of eight women and four men.
He will be sentenced by Judge Keith M. Sutherland on February 4, 2016.
“Ricky Harding’s decision to bring an illegal firearm into his home caused Summer’s death,” Shellabarger said in a press release. “This 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. It was traumatic and has required a tremendous amount of resources from our community to restore their mental and physical health. We are dedicated to ensuring their full recovery.”
“All of this was preventable,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Ashley Turner said. “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, grabbed Summer turning her around, and struggled 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 911 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 and actions have consequences, and those who take a life will be held accountable.”
Prosecuting Attorney Shellabarger said the Audrain County Sheriff’s Office deserved to be commended for its “caring, compassionate, and thorough investigation.
“In responding, Lt. Steve Kennemore and Conservation Agent Norman Steelman quickly and professionally comforted the children and began to help their mother,” he said. “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. I am also thankful for the assistance of my Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, Ashley Turner, who provided the jurors and this victim with a clear, consistent and thorough prosecution at trial with the victim and the community first, focusing on those decisions Ricky Harding made and the lasting impact of this murder on the victims and the family. Her 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. It is the team concept of 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.”
“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,” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Turner said.
“Our community must make sure the victim blaming mentality is put to rest, as the focus should stay on Ricky Harding, his actions and choices.”
Although the defense used old clichés about domestic violence, the jury reportedly saw through those distractions and saw Ricky Harding as the abuser his family saw.
“Ricky Harding’s choice to bring an illegal firearm and leave it loaded in his couch and 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,” Shellabarger said. “I hope this verdict provides a measure of comfort for their pain.”