Story published: Friday, Mar. 25, 2011

The Olathe News

Odd murder case continues twists, turns as prosecutor argues for killer’s release

Mark Mangelsdorf faced a 10- to 20-year prison sentence when he pleaded guilty to sparing his then-girlfriend the stigma of divorce by joining with her to kill her husband.

But at a parole comment hearing on Tuesday, he had a strong ally in his effort to leave prison after just five years — the head of the office that won his conviction.

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe argued for Mangelsdorf’s release, opposing the family of victim David Harmon, a bank employee who died at age 25 with his face pulverized by a crowbar. Howe said he was obligated to as part of a plea agreement.

Then-District Attorney Paul Morrison had promised his office would support parole after five years if Mangelsdorf behaved in prison, Howe said. But the victim’s family said it would be an insult to release the man who beat Harmon to death and then escaped prosecution for 20 years after the 1982 murder.

John Harmon said Tuesday that he didn’t know prosecutors would support parole for his son’s killer after five years.

“I would urge the parole board to disregard this bogus attempt to circumvent the justice system,” Harmon said.

Even with the district attorney’s support, though, parole is far from certain. Melinda Raisch, Harmon’s wife who also pleaded guilty in his murder, also had the district attorney’s support at her hearing last year, but the parole board denied her release.

Tuesday’s public comment session to the parole board in Kansas City, Kan., was another strange turn in a notorious Johnson County murder that has been the subject of books and television shows.

“I do believe this is a very odd case,” parole board member Patricia Biggs said.

Raisch and Mangelsdorf, who became romantically involved but considered divorce a heresy, split up after the murder.

Raisch later married a dentist in Ohio and had children. Mangelsdorf, now 50, went on to graduate from Harvard University business school and became an affluent and respected businessman. He married twice and had several children.

Twenty years after the murder, police finally broke the cold case after they spoke to Raisch.

Mangelsdorf and Raisch pleaded guilty in 2006 to second-degree murder under the law in effect in 1982, when sentencing was much more lenient.

Mangelsdorf’s defense lawyer, Scott Kreamer, on Tuesday told the parole board how the plea agreement took shape.

After prosecutors tried Raisch and convicted her of first-degree murder, he said, they agreed to set aside the sentence and let her plead guilty to second-degree murder if she testified against Mangelsdorf.

But Raisch had given different stories about what had happened, Kreamer said, and prosecutors knew they had a difficult case against Mangelsdorf.

So to get a plea deal in what Morrison called an odd case, Kreamer said, the prosecutor agreed he would support parole if Mangelsdorf had a spotless prison record.

Morrison said later that he needed Raisch to prosecute Mangelsdorf but “it’s not like you would have a witness who would come in and say I stood in the door and watched him do it.”

The couple had spoken of killing Harmon, but Raisch was in another room when it happened, Morrison said.

Kreamer told the parole board Tuesday: “For 20 years my client worked, married and had children and was an absolute model citizen and still is a model citizen in prison. There can’t be any doubt that when he gets out he will be a model citizen.”

Mangelsdorf’s family and supporters also pleaded for release at the hearing Tuesday. They called him a good man, a mentor to other inmates and an accomplished business leader.

Witnesses testified that Mangelsdorf, a minimum-security inmate in Lansing, is the first prisoner to be on the board of a nonprofit that finds businesses that allow prisoners to work before release.

Chris Launius, a preacher who said he had known Mangelsdorf for 25 years, said he needed no more rehabilitation — “The reality is, he is the rehabilitator.”

His wife, Kristina Mangelsdorf, and a daughter pleaded for his release.

But retired Olathe police officer J.W. Larrick spoke against it. He said he looked at Harmon’s body in one of the most vicious and bloody crime scenes he had ever seen.

“This guy who used to cash my checks at the bank, I didn’t recognize him because of the condition of his body,” Larrick said.

“I was shocked someone could do that to another individual and then live in the shadows of our society with no remorse, no guilt.”

Kevin Jakabosky of Shawnee said he had been a good friend of both Harmon and Mangelsdorf, who were themselves best friends. He argued against release.

The killing was a cold, planned act by an intelligent man, he said.

Being a master manipulator helped him advance in business, Jakabosky said, and “it allowed him to perpetrate the perfect crime, almost.”

Marek Fuchs, author of a book on the case, covered it as a New York Times reporter after the two were charged.

Whether parole is granted or not, he said, “this case was hairy and unsatisfying from the start, and it will be hairy and unsatisfying to the end.”

Parole board members said they would interview Mangelsdorf next month and they expect to make a decision a month or more after that.