Murder victim’s emotional family testifies for plea deal

Betty Jean Harder (Source: Bullitt County Jail)
Betty Jean Harder (Source: Bullitt County Jail)

SHEPHERDSVILLE, KY (WAVE) - She admitted to murder, but a judge almost backed out of a plea deal for 44-year-old Betty Jean Harder Wednesday after hearing the emotional statements from the victim's family.

Harder previously pled guilty to shooting her husband, 53-year-old Ross Harder, in the back of the head in their kitchen in January of 2010.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011 was all about the sentencing.

"You just destroyed all of us," said Ross Harder's sister, Teresa Hatcher, as she addressed the court.

"She [Betty Jean Harder] is just a mean, selfish woman," said Ross Harder's brother-in-law, Joe Hatcher.

One by one, Ross Harder's family gave emotional statements in court Wednesday.

"She's taken my brother away from us and his 82-year-old mother will not have him for the rest of our lives," said Nancy Harder.

Betty Jean Harder and her husband Ross's three teenage boys were home when she shot him. Two of them showed up to learn their mother's fate from that shooting.

Tapes from Betty Jean's call to 911 dispatchers shed little light on a motive for the shooting.

"Dispatcher: What were you two fighting about?"

"Harder: I don't know we just haven't been getting along lately."

Rather than go through a long, painful trial, Ross Harder's family agreed to give her a plea deal. Instead of murder, Betty Jean pleaded guilty to manslaughter - which carries a 10-year sentence.

"Their hope is that she will serve all that time and they shared that with the court this morning. She has a particular mental health history that was documented," said Michael Ferguson with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office.

Harder walked into the courtroom Wednesday staring down the victim's family, who took their turn - and their time - giving her a piece of their mind.

"I will never forgive you for taking the most precious person in my life," said Melinda Harder, Ross Harder's sister.

"Every time I see a Coca Cola truck coming down the road or a man coming in I just look up and hope that it's him," said Teresa Hatcher. "And it's not him."

"She went out and bought a gun and took it into her home and she shot her husband in the back of the head," said Nancy Harder. "She knew what she was doing."

After hearing statements like this from Melinda Harder: "I think she should serve more than the maximum," the judge repeatedly asked if the family if they preferred to have Betty Jean stand trial in hopes of a stiffer sentence.

In the end, all sides and the judge signed off on the 10-year sentence; a sentence the defendant's sister says is unfair.

"Maybe probation or something like that," said Betty Jean's sister, Judy Rice.

Rice says her sister was abused by her husband for years before she shot him, and had had enough. Court records show police were no stranger to the Harder home: since 2004, they made 17 runs there, although only one was related to domestic violence.

Harder could be eligible for parole next year. The family says they'll continue to fight to make sure she serves the full 10-year sentence.

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