Human remains identified; murder charge filed in Osage County

Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor and Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones talk to reporters at the Shawnee County Courthouse Thursday while announcing a murder charge had been filed in connection with a body part found in rural Osage County in March 2012.

Human remains found near Carbondale in March 2012 have been identified, and one count of first degree murder has been filed against an inmate in a federal penitentiary, Osage County Attorney Brandon Jones and Shawnee County District Attorney Chad Taylor announced in a joint press conference held this afternoon in Topeka.

The prosecutors identified the victim as James E. Gerety. A single count of murder in the first degree was filed against James P. Harris, 29, who is currently in custody at the Federal Correctional Institution in Texarkana, Texas.

On March 24, 2012, a woman hunting mushrooms found a human body part lying on the ground about four miles northwest of Carbondale. At the time, Osage County Sheriff Laurie Dunn opened a homicide case, citing the unknown victim, unknown cause of death, and unknown length of time the victim had been deceased.

In the complaint filed Oct. 17 in Osage County District Court, which was unsealed yesterday afternoon after it was confirmed an arrest warrant had been served on Harris, the prosecutors allege that Harris killed Gerety, 50, sometime between March 3, 2011, and April 20, 2011.

Taylor said that because the body part was found in Osage County, that was the proper venue for the filing the charge, but the case is being prosecuted under multi-county jurisdiction due to the Topeka Police Department’s and Shawnee County’s investigation of Gerety’s disappearance in the months before the body part was found. Along with Jones, Taylor signed the complaint as a special prosecutor.

Taylor said that due to the investigation done in the Topeka area and Shawnee County, there would be “testimony and evidence that will be relevant at preliminary hearing.”

“It’s something our office has been working with law enforcement locally on for over two years,” he said. “What we ended up doing was investigating that and running that into the ground, at which time the trail pretty much ran cold.”

Taylor said that subsequent DNA testing on the body part identified Gerety as the victim, with that identification being made about three months ago. He said the investigation led to the determination that the manner of death was homicide.

After the body part was found last year, Dunn called in the Capital Area Major Case Squad, or the M-Squad, to assist in searching the area. The M-Squad is made up of numerous area law enforcement agencies that assist each other in major cases. A several day search of the area revealed no other body parts, although the sheriff said several other bone fragments were found, but thought to be those of animals. Search and rescue dogs from Missouri Search and Rescue were used in the search, two nearby ponds were drained, and a burn pile was excavated.

Other local media had quoted a witness as saying the body part found was a human skull, but law enforcement would not confirm that at the time. Thursday, Taylor and Jones would only confirm that the remains found were a body part.

Jones said that his office received confirmation late Wednesday afternoon that the arrest warrant had been served on Harris at the federal correctional institution in Texas. He said along with the warrant, a detainer had been placed on Harris so that he would not be released before his custody is transferred to Osage County.

“He is set to be released sometime in December, at which time he will be transported back to be housed in Osage County Jail while awaiting trial,” Taylor said.

A spokesman with the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office said that Harris was in custody in the federal correctional institution due to a weapons conviction. The Federal Bureau of Prisons website says Harris is scheduled to be released in April 2014.

Taylor said that Jackie Spradling, of the Shawnee County District Attorney’s Office, would assist Jones in the prosecution.

See the complaint filed in Osage County District Court here.

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