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Napa man arrested in possible CHP captain murder-for-hire scheme

New twist unfolds in multi-state murder mystery involving CHP commander
New twist unfolds in multi-state murder mystery involving CHP commander 03:28

SACRAMENTO -- Two mysterious deaths and an arrest in Sacramento are the results of a months-long story that began when Michael Harding disappeared in September.

Based on court documents, law enforcement records, and interviews with people who knew the estranged husband and wife, CBS13 has compiled a timeline of events.

ALSO READ: Mystery surrounds deaths of veteran CHP officer, husband in separate shootings

A Napa man arrested at the Sacramento International Airport Thurs., Dec. 8 waived his right to an extradition hearing Wednesday and waits in the Sacramento County Main Jail. He will be extradited to Kentucky in connection to the shooting death of the husband of a California Highway Patrol Captain who was also found dead on Sat., Dec. 10 in Tennessee. 

Thomas O'Donnell, 60, faces a murder charge in Kentucky for the shooting death of Michael Harding, who was found in a home on Glasgow Road in Burkesville, Kentucky on September 26. Harding went missing and was last seen in the southcentral Kentucky area, according to a social media post made at the time by the Clay County Sheriff's Office, in Tennessee, and was officially reported missing on September 20. 

At the time, Michael Harding was in the middle of a divorce, according to court documents, with his wife Julie Harding, a CHP captain in the Yuba-Sutter area, who filed for divorce in May 2022. 

The two deaths and an arrest in Sacramento are the results of a months-long story that began when Michael Harding disappeared in September, reported missing by police in Tennessee. Based on court documents, law enforcement records, and interviews with people who knew the estranged husband and wife, CBS13 has compiled a timeline of events.

September 2022: Michael Harding is reported missing 

Michael Harding bought a home in Celina, Tennessee in October 2019, along with his wife Julie Harding. A friend who lives in Tennessee told CBS13 the same year Michael moved his business, Around the Clock Heating and Air, to Tennessee from Sacramento. 

Neighbors in the Hardings' Sacramento neighborhood told CBS13 Michael lived at the home first, and when he married Julie, the couple shared the home. They were "nice" but didn't spend a lot of time at home, according to one neighbor, who said it appeared their work schedules kept them away from home often. 

In September, Michael was reported missing after his family did not hear from him for consecutive days. A photo shared by law enforcement at the time showed Michael's truck on a security camera in Kentucky in the Bowling Green and Cumberland County areas. 

On September 26, Michael was found dead in a home on Glasgow Road in Burkesville, Kentucky. Authorities told CBS13 Michael did not have a known connection to the home. The house itself was on the market for sale, he had been shot multiple times according to police. He was found in the home by a realtor. 

At the time of his death, Michael was in the middle of the divorce, according to court documents, and was estranged from Julie. The investigation into his death is being led by the Kentucky State Police. 

October 2022: Harassment and criminal trespassing complaints are filed against Julie Harding

The first incident that landed Julie Harding in the crosshairs of Tennessee law enforcement was on October 10, according to the Murfreesboro Police Department. 

Michael Harding's girlfriend, who identified herself as such to police, reported on October 13 that Julie had been harassing her since Michael's death. The woman filed a report after Julie criminally trespassed at her home and the woman told police she was "in fear of Julie" because "Michael had been shot in the head as his cause of death." 

Michael was living with his girlfriend at the time of his death. 

The woman reported that Julie hacked her Netflix account and deleted all the profiles but two: one was hers with a monkey picture and the other was named Julie and had an "angry princess" picture. 

On a separate occasion October 10, the woman reported that Julie opened her front door without her consent to take custody of Michael's dog named Charlie. The dog, according to Michael's girlfriend, belonged to Julie and Michael and when he went missing a month earlier, his girlfriend took custody of the dog to take care of it.

[anvplayer video="6330947" station="CBS Sacramento"]

Michael's girlfriend told Julie she was willing to give the dog to Julie if they were to do so at the Murfreesboro Police Department. When Julie called the dog at the front door, according to the report, the dog came toward her and she reached inside, grabbed the dog by its collar and left. 

An officer noted he called Julie and left a voicemail but was unable to get in touch at the time of the report.

[anvplayer video="6330949" station="CBS Sacramento"]

December 8, 2022: Julie and the suspect in Michael's death were arrested on the same day

Last Thursday, Julie Harding and Thomas O'Donnell, the suspect in Michael Harding's shooting death, were arrested more than 2,000 miles apart: Harding in Tennessee and O'Donnell in Sacramento. 

Harding's arrest came after a criminal trespassing complaint filed with the Murfreesboro Police Department by Michael Harding's girlfriend in October. The Rutherford County Sheriff's Office, in Tennessee, served the warrant and took her into custody. The department received help in her arrest from the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

Julie was released from custody on the same day. 

On the same day, at the Sacramento International Airport, authorities arrested O'Donnell, a Napa resident. Sacramento authorities assisted in the arrest but are not the charging agency. 

Kentucky State Police and the FBI led O'Donnell's arrest, the details of his charges will come after he is formally charged upon his arrival to Kentucky. 

O'Donnell is being held in the Sacramento County Main Jail while he awaits extradition to Kentucky to face a murder charge in the shooting death of Michael Harding. 

December 10, 2022: Julie Harding found dead in Tennessee 

A mail carrier found Julie dead in the yard of the Celina, Tennessee home she bought with her husband in 2019. It appeared she died of a single gunshot wound to the head. 

In a California Highway Patrol internal memo, Julie's death was called a suicide. A formal cause of death will be issued by the medical examiner's office in Nashville in 8-12 weeks.

Tennessee's Bureau of Investigation confirmed to CBS13 that while "no foul play" is suspected in her death, they could not confirm at this time that it was a suicide. 

The week of Julie's death, the Harding's next-door neighbor in Sacramento told CBS13 that FBI agents swarmed their home with guns drawn. The neighbor said an FBI agent said there was no threat to the neighborhood and the agents were at the home to deliver a search warrant. 

An FBI spokesperson at the Sacramento FBI field office told CBS13 that information on this investigation would come from the Louisville FBI field office. 

Dig Deeper: Who is Thomas O'Donnell? 

The suspect awaiting extradition to Kentucky for the shooting murder of Michael Harding has a criminal history in Texas. 

The charges include felony stalking and harassment in 2006. He was also charged with DUI in 2008. 

CBS13 is working to confirm O'Donnell's possible connection to the Hardings and his official charges. Once he is extradited to Kentucky and served his arrest warrant, the details on why he was arrested in Sacramento and his charges should become public. At this time they remain under seal. 

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