In 2008, Gustave Adolph Hartner of York County shot his elderly wife in the back of the head in what he claimed was a mercy killing. Now, seven years later, after his release from prison, Hartner himself is the victim of a homicide, according to Lexington County’s coroner.
Hartner, 79, who pleaded guilty but mentally ill to voluntary manslaughter in 2009 for killing his ailing 90-year-old wife, Mildred Hartner, and was sentenced to seven years in prison, was identified Tuesday as a homicide victim from an April incident in the Lexington County town of Gaston, said Margaret Fisher, Lexington County coroner. Hartner was found April 28 in a home at 107 Anderson Road yet was finally identified Tuesday through X-ray medical records, Fisher said.
Hartner’s death is a homicide, Fisher said. He died from a skull fracture secondary to blunt force trauma to the head after a beating, Fisher said.
“Hearing that Mr. Hartner has died – and apparently has been killed – makes me very sad,” said Harry Dest, 16th Circuit chief public defender who was Hartner’s lawyer and argued that Hartner’s diminished mental capacity, and love for his wife, led to Hartner killing Mildred Hartner.
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Officials with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case Tuesday, but did release a statement April 28 that said the case – before Hartner had been identified – was being investigated as a suspicious death. Police had gone to the Anderson Road house around 10 p.m. April 27 after a call for service to do a welfare check but found the man dead, police said.
S.C. Department of Corrections spokesperson Stephanie Givens confirmed that Gustave Adolph Hartner, whose date of birth was Oct. 2, 1935, was admitted into the prison system in April 2009 and was released in late 2014. The name and date of birth is the same as the homicide victim, said Fisher, the coroner.
Hartner was released from prison into a program called community supervision after serving 85 percent of his seven-year sentence, said Pete O’Boyle, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services. Hartner was due to finish reporting in September and last reported to his probation officer in March, O’Boyle said.
The circumstances of Hartner’s death remain unclear. Maj. John Allard, spokesman for the Lexington County Sheriff’s Department, said his office is expected to issue a statement on the status of the case Wednesday.
Hartner was a Korean War Marine Corps veteran who received commendations for saving other Marines at Parris Island. At the time he killed his wife, Hartner claimed she was suffering and tried to kill himself with pills after shooting both the family dog and his wife.
Prosecutors agreed to the 2009 plea to voluntary manslaughter, but said that Hartner made a decision to kill that he had no right to make.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065