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Columbus woman pleads guilty in murder-for-hire plot

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Kelly Harper

MADISON (WKOW) - A Columbus woman entered a guilty plea Thursday to a federal felony charge that she used the internet in the commission of a murder-for-hire plot, targeting her former husband.

During a plea hearing, Kelly Harper, 38, admitted she went on the dark web and showed the administrator of a murder-for-hire site that she had more $5,600 in a bitcoin account to pay for the killing.

Related: "Columbus woman indicted in murder-for-hire plot"

A plea agreement between Harper and prosecutors calls for Harper to receive a six-year prison sentence. Judge William Conley will be bound by that recommendation when he sentences Harper in September, unless the information in a pre-sentence report or from other sources convinces Conley a different sentence is needed.

The crime of using interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire carries a ten-year maximum sentence.

Authorities say Harper tried to pay for this murder-for-hire in October 2020 on a dark web site. But Harper says that attempt ended with her being scammed out of bitcoin. Harper says she used another internet site earlier this year to arrange for the killing of her former husband, providing the site administrator with his photo, cell phone number, and workplace location.

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Prosecutors say international journalists using technology to monitor conversations on the site came across Harper's proposal. A source close to this investigation tells 27 News Isthmus reporter Dylan Brogan of Madison became aware of what the other journalists discovered and went to the home of Harper's intended target to warn him. Sun Prairie Police were contacted and after a search warrant was carried out at Harper's Columbus home, authorities say Harper was arrested and confessed to trying to hatch the plot.

In a statement to Conley, Harper claimed she was driven to the murderous plot by her former husband's physical and emotional abuse of their children and the failure of authorities to help.

"I have a divine right as a mother to protect my children," Harper says. "I was desperate and in a very dark place."

A friend of the target of Harper's murder-for-hire scheme maintains to 27 News that Harper's accusations about the treatment of the children are untrue. The divorce filing involving Harper and the man has been sealed by a judge.

Harper is being held in the Sauk County Jail. Her sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 30.

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Tony Galli

Reporter, WKOW

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