Tuesday, June 17, 2014

TOP STORY >> 45-year term in guilty plea

Leader staff writer

Lonoke County resident Dennis Harrington, 42, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in the death of a 35-year-old woman.

Harrington, of 3505 Clayhill Road, appeared before Judge Sandy Huckabee in Lonoke County Circuit Court on Monday. Huckabee sentenced Harrington to 45 years in the Arkansas Department of Corrections.

He must serve at least 31 years before he is eligible for parole. He was facing a capital murder charge.

He also pleaded guilty to abusing a corpse and third-degree domestic battery and no contest to the kidnapping charge.

Harrington’s alleged accomplice, Steven Boulanger, 37, faces hindering apprehension and abuse of a corpse charges. Boulanger’s jury trial starts on July 9.

Harrington was victim Rebecca Lauer’s boyfriend. Lauer’s family reported the 35-year-old resident of the Woodlawn community missing in July 2013.

Harrington was out on parole for aggravated assault and terroristic threatening. Lauer filed a report in April with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Office, saying Harrington was physically abusing her.

The warrant for Harrington’s arrest included statements from witnesses. Their statements and evidence collected at his home showed Harrington killed Lauer on the night of July 21 and — with the help of a friend — burned her body in a pile of debris and tires behind his home.

According to information in the affidavit, Lauer’s mother, who lives in Texas, reported her missing on July 28 and detectives from the sheriff’s department questioned Harrington three days later.

Harrington said Lauer had left and provided detectives with a note she wrote to him: “I love you DH, Booboo, My Goober…Yours completely, your sweetheart.”

On Aug. 5, Danny Mathis went to the sheriff’s department with information in the missing person case. He said Harrington brought Lauer to his home on July 21 and demanded twice that he have sex with her.

Mathis said Lauer had been beaten. She was in handcuffs that Harrington removed after she asked to use the bathroom and get a drink of water.

Mathis said he refused to have sex with Lauer and the couple followed him to the Exxon service station at the intersection of Hwy. 38 and Hwy. 31, where he intended to buy minutes for his cell phone.

They left, but Harrington texted him later saying his pickup was stuck on Yielding Road.

Mathis said he pulled the pickup out of the mud and left. Lauer was still alive then.

On Sept. 21, Eric Williamson, who had been arrested on outstanding warrants, provided information that led to the discovery of charred human remains in Harrington’s backyard.

Williamson told investigators that he was at the home of Steven Boulanger, 37, on Seaton Road when Harrington came in yelling that he needed Boulanger’s help more than he had ever needed it before.

The door was open on Harrington’s four-door pickup, Williamson said, and he saw a body in the back seat.

Williamson said Boulanger left with Harrington.

Williamson went to Chris Carpenter’s house on Tippett Road and told him about what he had seen. Then he and Carpenter drove to the property adjoining Harrington’s property.

They watched Harrington build a fire in the backyard that he fed with tires and what appeared to be clothes that he carried from inside his home.

On Sept. 23, Boulanger was questioned. At first, he said he knew nothing about the case. Then he said Harrington came to his home on the evening of June 21 and asked for his help.

When he got into Harrington’s pickup, he saw a woman in the back floorboard but didn’t know if she was dead or alive.

They drove to Harrington’s home, Boulanger said, and talked for about an hour about cleaning up his place. Then they went to Carpenter’s home and loaded several tires into Harrington’s pickup.

Back at Harrington’s home, Boulanger said Harrington dropped him off at the front of the house and told him to get newspaper to start a fire.

By the time he got to the back of the property, Harrington already had a pile of trash, debris and tires ready to burn.

Boulanger said he didn’t see Harrington put the body on the fire and that the two never spoke about a body.

Boulanger’s statement was to obtain a search warrant. Harrington’s property was searched on Sept. 24. An evidence team with the FBI found bone fragments large enough to be identified as belonging to someone with a small frame.

Det. Matt Edwards with the Lonoke County Sheriff’s Department, said in the affidavit for Harrington’s arrest that Boulanger later admitted he knew Lauer was dead and that he helped Harrington pull her from the pickup and put her body on the burn pile.