Nicholas M. Webb is charged with second-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was convicted of murder in 1981 and was released from prison most recently in July, according to prison officials.
The charges announced Thursday accuse Webb of stabbing to death Cody Harter, 23, of St. Joseph in what police believe was a road rage incident about 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
Webb was taken into custody around 6 p.m. Wednesday at his home in Pleasant Hill.
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The killing appeared to stem from a dispute over a merge lane as Webb and Harter both drove along northbound Missouri 291 at the merger of Interstate 470 in Lee's Summit, according to Webb's statement to police in court documents.
"Webb admitted the other driver yelled at him 'Hey, this is a merging lane,' " according to court documents.
"Webb admitted the other driver’s truck slowed down and then he slowed down," the documents quote police. "He said the truck then stopped, so he stopped at which time the other driver got out of his truck and stated that it was a merging lane, but the other driver really did not seem all that mad."
Webb said the incident was no big deal and that he did not hurt or kill Harter, the documents say.
But a witness told police he saw two vehicles stopped along Missouri 291 and a man matching Webb's description take a swing at another man with his fist. The other man put both of his hands up in the air as he retreated, the witness said.
"It's such a tragic ending to such a minor infraction," Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said at a press conference to announce the charges Thursday evening. "There's no reason this should have ended this way with this young man dying, especially when his hands were up in a position of surrender."
Baker praised the Lee's Summit Police Department for "solving a case that could most certainly have gone unsolved.
"It's a sad day for a family but it's also a day where we need to acknowledge really good police work," she said.
Harter's family was not at the press conference. Instead they were preparing for his funeral on Friday.
“Our hearts are with them, our prayers are with them and we will continue to fight for them,” Baker said.
Lee's Summit Police Chief Travis Forbes said his detectives worked tirelessly to solve the murder of a hero veteran.
They were helped by many witnesses who came forward with video footage taken from their businesses and homes of the victim's and the suspect's vehicles.
"This is a community that exemplifies, 'If you see something, say something,' " he said. "People here don't tolerate crime."
Harter was killed as he was returning home after buying a replacement mower for his lawn care business. He had just spoken with his fiancée moments before the incident.
According to court documents:
The witness who saw the two men on the highway pulled over to the side of the road to call 911 and saw a small gray vehicle speed past him. He noted the first two letters of the license plate: PR.
In Harter's truck, police found a sandwich still in its packaging, and traced the purchase to a Temp-Stop store at 2017 North Missouri 7 in Pleasant Hill, where surveillance video captured Harter buying the sandwich.
More surveillance video from eight different locations showed Harter's truck and a suspect vehicle traveling north on Missouri 291.
Over the course of the week, police interviewed several witnesses who described an altercation by the side of the road involving a man matching Webb's description. One witness described Harter's assailant as a "biker type," while another described seeing the older man shove Harter with both hands.
On Wednesday, the investigation advanced with a tip from a confidential source, according to police.
The source gave police Webb's name and described where he lived. The source also said Webb had served time for stabbing someone to death and was released from prison within the last few years.
The source also gave a description of Webb and his car — a "small silver four-door" vehicle.
A search of records led police to Webb, who matched the description given by the witness and who had registered a gray 2006 Mitsubishi four-door sedan with a license plate beginning with the letters PR.
Webb had gone to prison in 1981 after being convicted of second-degree murder in Jackson County, according to court records.
Webb was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but at the time, Missouri did not have its current law that offenders must serve 85 percent of their time, Baker noted.
With parole violations, he served a total of 32 years in prison over the next three decades, most recently an eight-year stint ending when he was released in July, according to the Missouri Department of Corrections.
Lee's Summit police also learned that, two hours after the homicide, Webb had been arrested in Liberty with a knife in his pocket.
When police arrested Webb outside his home Wednesday, he had a knife in his front pants pocket.
While being questioned by a detective, Webb said he had been drinking with friends Saturday when he drove to pick up a friend.
He told police that, while driving on Missouri 291, he exchanged words with the driver of a truck about the merge lane. And he acknowledged getting out of his vehicle.
He denied killing Harter, but when shown a photo of Harter said the man looked familiar, according to a probable cause statement written by a detective.
Harter was a member of the Missouri Air National Guard. He did a tour in Iraq and served in Qatar, his mother said. He also helped with the hurricane relief in Houston and Puerto Rico.
He was studying technical engineering from Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph and was one semester away from graduating. In addition to running his own lawn care business, he was a novice dirt bike racer.
The day following his death, Harter's family made a passionate plea for tips to help police solve his death.
"If you saw anything, even if you think it was nothing, please call," his mother, Kerrie Harter, said. "Please call. They'll put the pieces together. Let's find who did this senseless act so that you're not sitting here when it's your child. Please call. Please."