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Columbus woman agrees to plead guilty and take 6-year prison sentence in murder-for-hire case

Columbus woman agrees to plead guilty and take 6-year prison sentence in murder-for-hire case

A Columbus woman charged with murder-for-hire has agreed to be sentenced to six years in federal prison under a plea agreement filed Thursday under which she would plead guilty to the murder solicitation charge.

Kelly R. Harper, 37, was arrested in February and charged in U.S. District Court with murder-for-hire. Days later, she was formally indicted on the charge.

A plea hearing is scheduled on June 24 before U.S. District Judge William Conley.

A criminal complaint filed in federal court states the FBI and Sun Prairie police learned in January of a plot to kill a man from a group of journalists and from the man who was to be targeted. The journalists, who were not identified in the complaint, were investigating a murder-for-hire site on the internet’s so-called dark web, where they uncovered information showing someone wanted to kill the man.

Kelly Harper


The intended victim, according to Harper’s divorce case in Dane County Circuit Court, was her former husband. That was stated in correspondence from the man’s lawyer that asked a judge to seal the divorce file. Circuit Judge Jacob Frost has since sealed the file.

According to the plea agreement filed Thursday, Harper agreed to plead guilty to the charge, which carries up to 10 years in prison. The agreement states that Assistant U.S. Attorney Chad Elgersma and Harper and her attorney, federal defender Joseph Bugni, have agreed to seek a 72-month prison sentence followed by three years of supervised release.

If the agreement is accepted by Conley, the agreement states, Conley would be bound to sentence Harper as stated in the document. If Conley rejects the agreement, Harper may withdraw her plea.

The agreement, signed by Harper on Wednesday, also calls for Harper to be housed in a federal prison near her children, but concedes that placement is ultimately up to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, the closest women-only prison is in Waseca, Minnesota.

Two weeks ago, Harper filed a motion to suppress statements she made to police and the FBI in early February, alleging the statements were made without Harper being given her Miranda warning against self-incrimination, and that the statements she gave were coerced. A detailed brief to support the claims has not been filed. But with the plea agreement signed, that issue will not be decided.

The criminal complaint states the intended victim gave police a summary of what the journalists found, which included chat communications in December between Harper and a person claiming to be in charge of a murder-for-hire site. In the chats, Harper provided the name of the intended victim, along with his address, phone number and description, and his vehicle and workplace information.

Harper provided proof of payment in bitcoin to the site administrator. The journalists, meeting with the FBI, also provided information about a bitcoin transfer in October from Harper to a second murder-for-hire site on the dark web, according to the complaint.

Authorities searched Harper’s home on Feb. 5 and found evidence connecting her to a murder-for-hire site, the complaint states.

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