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Cop found shot to death months after estranged husband gunned down in suspected 'murder-for-hire' plot

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Composite screenshot of CBS Sacramento YouTube video

A captain with the California Highway Patrol has been found shot to death just two months after her estranged husband was murdered in a suspected "murder-for-hire" plot.

Last Saturday, the lifeless body of Julie Harding, 49, was discovered by a mail carrier near the driveway of her home in Celina, Tennessee. Harding had died of a single gunshot wound to the head. An internal memo released from CHP reportedly called her death a suicide, though the Nashville medical examiner is not expected to give an official cause of death for several weeks. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has confirmed that "no foul play" is suspected.

The months leading up to Harding's death appeared to have been turbulent. She was in the midst of divorcing her husband Michael, who had moved his HVAC business to Tennessee in 2019. The couple appear to have owned homes in Tennessee and Sacramento. It is unclear when the two were married.

Julie filed for divorce from Michael back in May, and Michael had been living with another woman in Tennessee when he went missing in September. On September 26, Michael was discovered dead in an empty home in Burkesville, Kentucky, about a half-hour north of Celina. The Kentucky home where he was found was listed for sale, and a realtor discovered Michael's body. Police say he had been shot multiple times.

In the weeks following Michael's death, his girlfriend reported to police that Julie had been stalking and harassing her. In early October, the woman told police that Julie had hacked her Netflix account and deleted nearly all of her files. The woman had also reported that Julie had come to her home and kidnapped Michael's dog, Charlie. Doorcam footage did record a woman who resembles Julie appearing at the door and perhaps calling for "Charlie." She then leaves with the dog in her custody. Though Julie and Michael had adopted Charlie when they were still together, Charlie had been living with Michael following the separation, and his girlfriend continued caring for the dog after Michael's death.

Deputies with the Rutherford County Sheriff's Office arrested Julie on December 8 and charged her with trespassing and burglary. On that same day, a man was arrested at Sacramento International Airport in connection with Michael's death. Thomas Francis O'Donnell, a 60-year-old Napa resident with several prior arrests, was charged with murder and booked in the Sacramento County Main Jail. He has since waived a hearing regarding extradition to Kentucky.

O'Donnell has previously been charged with stalking and threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend. He was also charged with a DUI in 2008. He has no known connection to either Michael or Julie Harding, though KPIX had previously reported that O'Donnell had been hired as an assailant in a "murder-for-hire" plot to kill Michael Harding.

Julie Harding joined the CHP in 1999. In 2018, she was named the CHP commander of the Yuba-Sutter area. She was on leave from her job at the time of her death.

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