Autopsy results may toughen charges against Battle Creek man

Posted at 7:51 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-16 19:52:07-04

BATTLE CREEK, Mich. -- Denise Priestly, 55, survived 9 hours after being struck in the head, according to Battle Creek police. What happened at Chateau Village Apartments appears to the end of a tragic history of domestic violence.

Her boyfriend, 61-year-old Steve Harmon Jr., is accused of beating her. In court, the magistrate told him, "Assault with intent to murder carries a maximum penalty of up to life in prison."

Harmon interjected, "Uh, can I say one thing your honor? I wasn't trying to do anything. She started arguing..."

The magistrate said, "I'm here to inform you of what the charges are, not the strengths and weaknesses of your defense."

Harmon also faces a domestic violence charge. His court file shows several domestic charges dating back to the 1990s in Calhoun County.

Battle Creek Police said Harmon and his girlfriend were intoxicated late Sunday night. It's not clear what they fought about, but Harmon allegedly hit Priestley in the head at least twice. The 55-year-old ran to a neighbor who called 911.

A detective said Priestly was bleeding badly but was still conscious when police arrived. She reportedly told them she thought Harmon hit her with the lid of a cooking pot. Police are still trying to determine that, but they are also examining some glass mugs. Lakeisha Coats lives directly below the couple and said she's heard arguments before but didn't expect this.

Coats said, "When they had altercations, the people upstairs, they had 'em. And you knew they was having 'em cause it was loud, always throwing things over the porch."

Prosecutor Dave Gilbert said he's waiting on the autopsy report to come back to determine if the blow to Priestley's head directly caused her death and not a medical condition. If it did, he said the charge could change to murder.

Harmon'smodi bond is set at $400,000 bond.