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2009 0905 homicidefolo 01

Mary Dawn Crockett, 24, inset, and Christopher Paul Harless, 25.

HUNTINGTON -- A couple who met at the Western Regional Jail, died together Thursday as part of a what police believe was a murder-suicide in Lawrence County, Ohio.

The shooting victims were identified as corrections officer Christopher Paul Harless, 25, and Mary Dawn Crockett, 24, a former inmate at the Western Regional Jail, where Harless worked. Both lived in Huntington. Investigators were unsure as to which party shot the other, according to press release issued by the Lawrence County Sheriff's Office.

Crockett was serving time for malicious wounding when the two met, said her mother Loretta Neace and his mother Tina Brooks. State officials transferred her to a place for youthful offenders in Greenbrier County, but their romance continued.

"He wrote her letters like a pen pal," Brooks said.

Marriage was on the horizon, before the couple's engagement turned tragically violent after the two moved into a new apartment last month.

Each mother blames the other's child for breaking off the engagement. Both shared stories of their child being unable to escape the others control. Both blame the other's child for abuse, but both agreed Friday the previous 24 hours were hell.

"She was a beautiful person," Neace said. "She just had personality plus."

Both of the deceased are survived by young children from prior relationships.

Neace described her daughter as terrified by recent abuse. She sought refuge at Neace's house and filed for a domestic violence petition Tuesday. Crockett made efforts to drop the petition Wednesday, and the two met again during her lunch break Thursday.

Crockett clocked out at 11:21 a.m. from Beltone Hearing Aid Center. Investigators received word of a shooting 56 minutes later near an auto parts building in Getaway, Ohio, about five miles north of Chesapeake.

Not aware of the discovery, frustration quickly turned to concern for supervisor Cindy Reimann when Crockett did not return from the 30-minute lunch break. Colleagues soon advised Reimann of Crockett's planned lunchtime meeting to retrieve some belongings from Harless. The Sheriff's Office states they met at a nearby gasoline station and drove way.

Colleagues and supervisors had warned Crockett to be careful, but owner Marsha Mattingly said they never dreamed of her death. She closed the 12-employee office early Thursday. She said many employees did not sleep well overnight. They remained in stunned shock Friday.

"We were appalled," she said. "I kept seeing her face, and thinking 'Oh, my God.'"

Investigators arrived at the crime scene, where Harless' body lay on ground next to a truck's driver side door. Crockett was found wounded in the passenger side floor. She was taken via helicopter to Cabell Huntington Hospital where she died.

Two days separated Crockett's filing for the domestic violence protective order and the couple's death. Both mothers said the order was sought at the behest of Crockett's probation officer, but they gave differing reasons for the filing. Neace said her daughter feared more abuse, while Brooks contends it was an attempt to keep the two separated so the once-convicted felon would avoid new charges.

Whatever her reasoning, Crockett's domestic violence petition was the second filed against Harless. Court records show his ex-wife sought similar protection in January 2008, but also dropped the petition before an order could be filed. The ex-wife filed her petition six months after their July 3, 2007, wedding. Their divorce was finalized in April 2008.

"He was not abusive," Brooks said.

Neace said her daughter met Harless as his divorce proceeding proceeded.

Harless does not have any magistrate court charges filed in Cabell or Wayne counties, but Crockett had problems in both jurisdictions. Her criminal record includes more than 20 misdemeanor allegations, some involved drug possession, drunken driving and shoplifting. Her troubles led to the felony malicious wounding conviction in April 2007. Her guilty plea was taken in Wayne Circuit Court. Her prison sentence was suspended to allow her placement at the state's Anthony Center for youthful offenders in Greenbrier County.

Crockett and Harless continued to communicate despite her incarceration. Brooks said she used employees at Anthony Center to contact Harless.

Brooks explained Harless resigned from the jail in fear the officer-inmate relationship would jeopardize his ability to gain custody of his son during divorce proceedings. Deputy Cabinet Secretary Joe Thornton confirmed Harless' employment at the Barboursville jail ended April 4, 2008. His divorce was final a day earlier.

Both mothers said Harless moved on and gained employment as a security guard at Marathon Oil in Catlettsburg, Ky.

Crockett continued progress as well. She was released from the Anthony Center in June 2008 and eventually moved in with Harless' mother. Her probation included a required stint on home confinement. Brooks and Neace said she opted to live at her would-be mother-in-law's because the court ordered her to stay away from bad influences in Wayne County. Custody issues concerning Crockett's daughter also influenced her decision, Neace said.

Once Crockett was released from home confinement, she returned to live with Neace and her child. She continued to progress and the couple moved into the Huntington apartment in August, but both mothers said their relationship spiraled out of control.

Brooks contends one fight led Harless' grandmother to call police last weekend.

Huntington Police Capt. Rick Eplin said 911 records indicate Crockett made no attempt to get help, and Neace said her daughter never called police out of fear.

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