Authorities say they're confident they can prove Earnest Lee Hargon kidnapped and killed three of his relatives whose bodies were recovered in south Mississippi 17 days after they disappeared from their Yazoo County home.
"We've been saying all along since we've anticipated filing these charges that our case is rock solid,'' Mississippi Highway Patrol spokesman Warren Strain said Monday.
Hargon was charged with three counts of capital murder in the deaths of his cousin, 27-year-old Michael Hargon; Michael Hargon's wife, 29-year-old Rebecca, and their 4-year-old son James Patrick.
In Mississippi, capital murder is murder in connection with another felony - in this case kidnapping and a jury can order the convicted person put to death.
Earnest Lee Hargon's court appearance in Yazoo City, delayed until late Monday, came as teams of officers some 100 miles to the southeast in Covington County collected the bodies from land planted in trees and used for hunting.
Yazoo County District Attorney James Powell told The Associated Press that he hoped to learn the exact causes of death sometime Tuesday, depending on when reports from the autopsies were completed.
Authorities said a .22-caliber gun was fired at the Michael Hargon home, where large amounts of blood and spent bullet casings were found. However, Powell said he would not speculate on whether the three had been shot. The weapon has not been found.
Powell said Tuesday he was uncertain whether Rebecca Hargon and her son were alive when they were abducted from their Vaughan community home.
"However, we do feel confident based on what was found at the scene, that he (Michael Hargon) did not leave there alive,'' he said.
The prosecutor said he would seek the death penalty.
"It's awful. You deal with bad stuff all the time but rarely where the whole family was killed,'' Powell said.
Powell said Earnest Lee Hargon had acted alone.
Bill Hirtz, Rebecca Hargon's father, said the discovery of the bodies gave him a measure of solace.
"At least I know where they were at,'' Hirtz said in a telephone interview Monday night.
The discovery of the remains and the charges against Earnest Lee Hargon capped an intense search for clues in the case by federal, state and local officers. Hargon was arrested on unrelated drug charges at his home near Taylorsville on Friday, and authorities searched the property this past weekend. His bond was set Monday at $30,000 on the drug charge.
The search resumed early Monday several miles way, apparently based on information collected by investigators during interviews Sunday night. Teams of law officers using portable lights searched the area off Mississippi 37 through scattered rain. State troopers and deputies closed entrances to the land, which is a few miles away from Earnest Lee Hargon's home.
In a Yazoo County courthouse, Hargon heard the three capital murder charges read and was ordered held without bond. He was taken to an undisclosed location.
Friends and relatives of the family, many visibly shaken, attended the brief court appearance. Powell said Earnest Lee Hargon had acted alone. Powell said no additional hearing had been scheduled.
"We know they're together and that's a consolation,'' said Michael Hargon's aunt, Katherine Alexander, in a telephone interview.
"We know they're in God's hands and we're just thankful for that. We know that God's going to give us the strength to go through what we're going to have to go through for the next few days and weeks to come.''
Investigators have been checking a piece of land that Michael Hargon recently inherited from his uncle, Charles Hargon, to determine if it is linked to the disappearance, said Jennifer Hargon, Michael's sister.
Earnest Lee Hargon, Charles Hargon's adopted son, was not included in the will, she said.
Strain said the property is a consideration in the case, but not necessarily a motive.
"It could be a potential motive, but it's not the only one,'' Strain said.