Wife killer sentenced to life in prison Harney fled with his sons after slaying

He must serve 24 years before he can get parole

October 11, 1995|By ALAN J. CRAVER | ALAN J. CRAVER,SUN STAFF

Daniel Scott Harney, telling a Howard County judge that he "lost control" when he caught his estranged wife with another man, was sentenced yesterday to life in prison for her murder.

Even as the Harney case reached its resolution, yesterday's hearing produced surprising revelations in a story that has attracted nationwide attention. Among them:

* Harney's first wife testified that he pointed a loaded gun at her at her Virginia home shortly after they separated in 1980. "He looked me dead in the eye and said, 'I am going to kill you,' " said Roberta Purcell. "He told me, 'If I can't have you, no one else will.' "

* A woman from England testified that she and Harney carried on a long-distance relationship that started while he was still married to his second wife, murder victim Shirley Scott Harney.

* Harney -- speaking publicly for the first time since his arrest in the Dec. 26 murder -- said he bought the revolver used in the killing to commit suicide. He said thoughts of his two young sons were all that saved him.

Harney, 41, of Owings Mills, told a Howard circuit judge that he had kept the gun in his car for the two weeks after he bought it. He said he forgot about it until he went to confront his estranged wife Dec. 26, after learning that one of their sons saw her having intercourse.

Harney said he entered the house through a basement window, hoping to catch Mrs. Harney with the other man and use the information to get custody of their sons.

Inside the house in the 5000 block of Brampton Parkway in Ellicott City, Harney said he found the 41-year-old woman in the master bedroom with her boyfriend, William Arthur Helmbold, 45, of Woodlawn.

"I wasn't fully prepared for what I saw," said Harney, who showed little emotion as he read a prepared statement. "I lost control. I took out the gun and fired over and over again."

Mrs. Harney was shot three times, and Mr. Helmbold was wounded in the right arm. Mrs. Harney later was run over by Harney's Toyota as he fled.

Harney was arrested Jan. 7 in Charlotte, N.C., where he had fled with his two sons after a trip to Florida, minutes after his case was featured on the television show "America's Most Wanted."

Judge Raymond Kane Jr. sentenced Harney to life in prison for murder, plus 40 years for attempting to murder Mr. Helmbold and illegally using a handgun.

Harney, a former financial administrator at Westinghouse Corp., must serve 24 years before he is eligible for parole.

Prosecutors, calling Harney a scheming, unremorseful man, had argued for a life sentence without possibility of parole. But defense attorneys called a no-parole sentence unwarranted.

The defense team presented one witness, Harney's mother, Lucille Harney of McLean, Va.

She said she was shocked to learn of her son's actions. "It wasn't like Dan at all," she testified.

But testimony from Harney's first wife, Ms. Purcell of Clifton Forge, Va., contradicted Harney's mother.

Ms. Purcell testified that Harney came to the home they once shared on Dec. 27, 1980, about a month after they separated. After a brief visit, Harney pulled out a loaded .357-caliber Magnum, she said.

Ms. Purcell testified that she talked Harney into giving her the gun and persuaded him to go out for dinner.

They stopped for gas on the way, and while Harney paid, Ms. Purcell drove away, she said. She reported the incident to police but didn't file criminal charges, she said.

Elizabeth Cunningham of London, England, testified for the prosecution that she met Harney through a dating service in October 1993 -- about eight months before the Harneys first separated.

Ms. Cunningham said Harney twice visited her. During his second visit, in April 1994, she recalled how he repeatedly asked her to marry him.

Ms. Cunningham said she ended the relationship after learning that Harney was married and that she talked with his wife about his affairs. She said she stopped hearing from him until last month -- about a month after he was convicted.

Harney sent her a card from the Howard County Detention Center, informing her of his wife's murder and his conviction.

Ms. Cunningham read Harney's note on the card: "I just want you to know your friendship means a lot to me. I hope your life is happier than mine."

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