Five southwest Missouri residents have pleaded guilty in federal court to their roles in a kidnapping conspiracy that resulted in the death of the victim.
Amy Kay Thomas, 39, of Webb City, Mo., and Lawrence William Vaughan, also known as “Scary Larry,” 51, of Newton County, Mo., pleaded guilty in separate appearances before U.S. District Judge M. Douglas Harpool. Thomas and Vaughan each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit kidnapping. Thomas also pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Co-defendants Carla Jo Ward, 49, of Joplin, Mo., James B. Gibson, 40, of Neosho, Mo., and Russell Eugene Hurtt, also known as “Uncle,” 51, of Greenwood, Mo., pleaded guilty earlier this month to their roles in the kidnapping conspiracy. Ward and Gibson also each pleaded guilty to one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
By pleading guilty, the five defendants admitted they participated in a conspiracy to kidnap the victim, identified as “M.H.,” in July 2020 in retaliation for him helping to retrieve a stolen trailer. Ward picked up M.H. and took him to Vaughan’s residence. Thomas and Gibson arrived at Vaughan’s residence in the early morning hours of July 15, 2020. They bound M.H.’s hands with handcuffs, and duct tape was placed around his mouth and other parts of his body. In Vaughan and Ward’s presence, Thomas cut M.H. repeatedly with a knife; Gibson beat M.H. with a club and burned him with a blowtorch. M.H. was fatally shot in the head. They wrapped M.H.’s body in plastic wrap and transported it to Hurtt’s property.
Law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Hurtt’s property on July 28, 2020, based on information that a deceased body was located on the acreage. When officers attempted to contact the occupants of the residence, a co-conspirator fired multiple shots from inside the residence at the officers before being apprehended. Officers found M.H.’s body on the property.
Officers searched the residence and found multiple firearms, including a disassembled HR1871 12-gauge shotgun with a sawed-off butt and a shotgun barrel inside a box. Officers also found a burned cell phone that contained photos and screen shots from a video of M.H. being assaulted.
Under federal statutes, each of the five defendants is subject to a sentence of up to life in federal prison without parole. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as the sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors. A sentencing hearing will be scheduled after the completion of a presentence investigation by the United States Probation Office.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ami Harshad Miller. It was investigated by the FBI, the Newton County, Mo., Sheriff’s Department, the Neosho, Mo., Police Department, the Joplin, Mo., Police Department, and the Cherokee County, Kan., Sheriff’s Department.