Monday, October 25, 2021
Oct. 25, 2021

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Jury convicts man of murder-for-hire plot

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Clark County jurors convicted a man Thursday afternoon of trying to hire a hit man — who was actually an undercover federal agent — to kill the father of his alleged rape victim.

After deliberating five hours over two days, the panel of seven women and five men rendered guilty verdicts just after 11:30 a.m. to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, solicitation to commit first-degree murder and felony harassment.

As Clark County Superior Court Judge John Nichols read the verdicts, Donald R. Babcock showed no emotion and stared straight ahead, his jaw set.

Behind him and seated in courtroom benches, the family of Harley Turner started sobbing. As jurors left the courtroom, the family members whispered, “They did it. They did it.”

Babcock, 54, of Goldendale faces at least 15 years in prison. Sentencing was set for Aug. 13.

During the three-day trial, jurors heard that Babcock had promised the “hit man” drugs in exchange for him to kill Turner, the father of a young girl whom he was convicted of raping in 2004. The posed assailant was Special Agent Eric Floyd with the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He was visiting Babcock, an inmate in the Klickitat County Jail, in early 2009.

The prosecution alleged Babcock had a beef with Turner because he had encouraged the girl to testify against Babcock at trial.

The situation started after Babcock won an appeal on his conviction, based on a judge’s procedural error, and was awaiting a new trial. After making threats to fellow inmates that he wanted both Turner and a Goldendale police detective dead, police sent in the undercover Floyd to investigate. Using the alias “Eric Schmidt” and “Mr. E,” Floyd told Babcock he was there to help.

The two had three jail meetings, communicating both through conversations and by holding written notes up to the glass window of the jail visiting room. Babcock told Floyd he would pay him in 2 pounds of methamphetamine for the killing, which would be delivered by an inmate friend set to be released soon, the prosecution said.

Still, it took a few months for Babcock to officially agree to the plan because he said he wanted time to think about it. In April 2009, he sent Floyd a letter simply stating, “The answer to the question is yes.”

To give Babcock “proof” of the killing, Floyd testified he then visited the jail with photos of a staged murder scene, which showed Turner — who had agreed to participate in the ploy — covered in fake blood and lying in a shallow grave. Floyd said Babcock smiled and held up a sign saying “Thank you.”

Defense attorney Michael Fitzsimons had argued that the whole thing was a complete misunderstanding and there was no solid evidence of a murder plan since the two had talked in coded language, using terms such as “have him done.”

Babcock testified he believed the plan was for Floyd to track down Turner to ensure he testify in Babcock’s second trial because Babcock wanted his attorney to cross-examine him.

However, Assistant Attorney General John Hillman noted that Babcock’s story was riddled with inconsistencies. The attorney questioned why Babcock would want Turner to testify, given he was a witness who would be against him.

Also, Babcock, on the stand, gave jurors two different stories about his reaction to seeing the staged murder photos. First, he said he couldn’t make out the pictures. But on cross-examination, he said he could tell someone had been beaten up, but he didn’t know who, then adding that he could tell the blood was fake.

The trial had only five witnesses and did not include testimony from Turner, formerly of Goldendale; he died in a car crash in February. It was moved to Clark County after Babcock allegedly threatened the only judge in Klickitat County, who had heard Babcock’s 2004 rape case.

Coincidentally, Babcock’s 2004 rape conviction was dismissed in May 2009 by prosecutors following the appeal.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.

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