PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — A Safety Harbor man in jail awaiting trial on first-degree murder charges tried to get a fellow inmate to kill witnesses set to testify in that trial next week, according to Pinellas prosecutors.
- Michael Harbaugh, 42, accused of murdering former Tampa Tribune reporter in 2017
- Harbaugh gave inmate instructions on targets, where to dispose of bodies
- More Pinellas County stories
Michael Harbaugh, 42, told another inmate last week to “take care of this witness” while mentioning a good place to dispose of a body is Lake Maggiore in south St. Petersburg, according to an arrest affidavit.
Harbaugh instructed the inmate to shave his head and arms prior to the offense. Harbaugh also asked the inmate if he needed money or a weapon and said he would have his girlfriend bond him out.
“He was going to bond this other individual in his pod out,” said prosecutor Jennifer Colyer. “Have him go kill this witness.”
Deputies said on a jail phone call, Harbaugh can be heard telling his girlfriend to take the inmate wherever he needs to go and not to ask any questions.
Harbaugh also told the inmate to locate two additional witnesses described as “the guy with the video” and a “female who lives next door.”
Killing allegedly over money owed
Harbaugh is accused of killing Tampa Tribune courts reporter David Sommer, 60, on June 18, 2017.
Deputies said Harbaugh is the only one seen on surveillance video at 11:35 p.m. going around the side of Sommer’s home with a bag and coming out 19 minutes later. A Meals on Wheels food delivery worker found Sommer dead the next morning.
"He was found bludgeoned to death with I believe 8 wounds to his skull,” said Colyer. “Was dead in his chair in the back living room."
The prosecutor said Harbaugh killed Sommer because the newspaper reporter owed him some money for yard work. Harbaugh lived a few houses down from Sommer.
At his Wednesday arraignment on a new charge of solicitation to commit murder, Harbaugh decided to take a plea deal in both cases.
Neighbor of victim "shocked thoroughly"
Prosecutors offered Harbaugh 30 years in prison for pleading guilty to a second-degree murder charge and solicitation to commit murder.
"Mr. Harbaugh, do you feel that entering this guilty plea and getting 30 years on all of this concurrent is in your best interest?” asked Judge Joseph Bulone.
"I guess I would have to say yes," replied Harbaugh.
Bulone told Harbaugh he could not accept the plea if he was “guessing.” Harbaugh took a break to talk with his public defender, then came back into court stating he was certain that he wanted to accept the plea offer.
That’s a major relief to Ken McNicol, who was Sommer’s neighbor at the time of the murder and still lives across the street from the home. McNicol said his wife, Ann, was scheduled to testify at Harbaugh’s trial.
“Threatening to murder witnesses — I'm horrified and I'm shocked thoroughly,” he said. "That's extremely comforting knowing that he'll be off the street.”
Harbaugh was facing life in prison had he been convicted of first-degree murder.