Man charged with murder, arson in death of local man
A suspect in the death of a local man whose body was found in a burned-out car the day after Thanksgiving is being held on a million-dollar bond in Carroll County Jail, charged with capital murder and related charges.
If the charges are proven, it will be Carroll County's first murder of the year, a decrease over 2003, when there were two murders.
George Russell Felice, 39, who lists a Berryville address but had apparently been living with a girlfriend south of town on County Road 501, has been charged with the death of a man tentatively identified as David A. Harkrider, 47 years old, who has lived in the area for about 10 years, according to Carroll County Sheriff Chuck Medford.
Harkrider's vehicle, an Oldsmobile Bravada, was seen burning Nov. 26 by a witness in the area of County Road 535 south of Berryville.
The witness called 911 and the Berryville Fire Department and sheriff's deputies were called to the scene at about 2:36 a.m. and extinguished the remaining fire in the almost totally burned vehicle.
After it was determined that there were charred remains of a human body, Sgt. Alan Hoos and Investigator Ralph Gordon had the body sent to the Crime Lab in Little Rock for the medical examiner's autopsy.
The vehicle's identification number and plates were registered to Harkrider, but the burns were so intense that identification of the remains is not yet officially classified as Harkrider.
Investigator Gordon said that on Nov. 29, the Arkansas Medical Examiner advised Sgt. Hoos that the death was a homicide, though the manner of death was not yet determined. The medical examiner advised that there was no smoke in the victim's larynx, so he ruled that the victim was dead before the vehicle was burned, ruling that the case is a homicide. The examiner is still working on the exact cause of death, and exact identity, because the damage from the fire is preventing further solid information until the investigation is complete.
On Dec. 12, a potential witness came forth with information that led investigators to Felice, who is originally from Massachusetts and had been in the county for about a year, Gordon said.
The witness allegedly told Deputy Jason Hunt and Sgt. Alan Hoos that George Felice, who also goes by the name of Russell Felice, invited Harkrider to Thanksgiving dinner on County Road 501. Felice was apparently living with a woman there, although he gave booking officers an address on North Springfield in Berryville.
During the Dec. 12 interview, the witness advised that on Nov. 25 Harkrider stayed at the residence for about one hour and then left. During the time Harkrider was at the residence, investigators said, Harkrider was allegedly trying to sell some of his prescription pain medications and was flashing a large amount of cash.
After Harkrider left, an unspecified period of time passed and the witness stated that Felice allegedly left the residence for an undetermined period of time. The witness advised that when Felice returned to the residence Felice allegedly came into the residence and stated that he had "just shot David."
According to the witness, Felice allegedly threatened the witness and stated that he was forcing her to go with him. The witness said that she followed Felice to the remote area where Officers located the burnt SUV and then Felice allegedly drove the SUV off into the woods.
The witness stated that at one point she started to leave Felice at that location but just before she left, Felice came back out of the woods, got into her vehicle, and fled the area.
On or about Dec. 14, Felice was arrested in Springfield, Mo., on a failure to appear warrant out of the western district of Carroll County.
Investigators Gordon and Hoos, assisted in the case by investigator Jason Hunt, seized the opportunity to go to Springfield, in the Greene County Jail, hoping to conduct an interview with Felice.
During the interview, Felice stated that Harkrider was at their residence for Thanksgiving dinner, stayed for about one hour, and then left. Felice then invoked his right to have an attorney present and the interview was terminated.
The sheriff and investigators stressed that David Harkrider has not been seen since Nov. 25. It should also be noted that as of Friday, Dec. 17, the Arkansas State Medical Examiners Office had not positively identified the victim as David Harkrider but has advised that it is a "probable" identification.
Sheriff Medford said Thursday that the body was so badly burned that dental records were not enough because the fire had damaged Harkrider's mandible and facial area that his investigators are trying to find family members of Harkrider for possible DNA testing.
On Dec. 21, an arrest warrant was issued for Felice on charges of capital murder, a class 'Y' felony, Robbery, a class "B" felony, intimidating a witness, a class "C" felony, tampering with physical evidence, abuse of a corpse, and arson, all felony offenses.
A probable cause hearing was held for Felice on the above charges, including the failure to appear warrant on Dec. 21.
On Dec. 22, Circuit Court Judge Alan Epley set a $1 million bond, the highest bond in recent court history.
During a hearing the defendant requested the opportunity to discuss this case with his attorney and/ or family, but the bond was set and a court date hwas set for Feb. 7.
In an affidavit of probable cause filed in the Circuit Clerk's office, it is alleged that Felice went to Harkrider's room at the Sunrise motel in Berryville, and when he came out empty handed he allegedly told a witness that he killed Harkrider "for nothing."
A witness took investigators to an undisclosed location where Felice had allegedly stashed a bag. The bag contained, among other things, I.D. belonging to Harkrider and clothes and shoes with blood splatter that is being analyzed at this time, Gordon said.
All of the items reeked with the smell of kerosene days after the they were found, by Springield Police in a motel room and a knife was found at the residence on County Road 501 with blood on it, that is also being analyzed.
Gordon stressed that the exact manner of death has not yet been determined, nor whether a gun or knife, or both, had been used in the homicide, pending further forensic study by the state and sheriff's office.
The charge of intimidating a witness is based on the witness's statement that she was forced by Felice to help him move Harkrider's vehicle to a remote area, and that she had seen the suspect throw an empty kerosene can into her vehicle. The witness claims that she did not see Harkrider's body or the fire, and that Felice had threatened her life if she revealed anything. She stated that she feared for her life when the suspect made her help him un-jam his gun, and then told her that her fingerprints were on the gun; he also pointed the gun at her head, she alleged.
The witness's car was seized, and it is also alleged that blood was found in the front seat of her car.
Sheriff Medford said that Gordon, Hoos and Hunt "seized on it from the beginning" when it looked suspicious, and brought a suspect to jail within a short time "through good, determined police work." He said his investigators are a great team, "and they ran with what they had, and now we have a suspect in jail. I'm very pleased with the bail amount set by Judge Epley," Medford said.
Carroll County averages about one murder a year, except for last year when there were two murders, and also the year before Medford took office from a previous administration