Murder of Jim Cornwell by Benjamin Hardy highlighted on Murder in the Heartland

Mugshot of Benjamin Hardy
Benjamin Hardy is serving a life sentence for first-degree murder. Pic credit: MO Dept. of Corrections

Murder in the Heartland in examining the murder of James “Jim” Cornwell, who was gunned down by Benjamin Hardy in St. James, Phelps County, Missouri, in 2005.

On the evening of July 1, 2005, Hardy and his girlfriend, Christine Watkins, drove from Rolla, MO, to St. James to find Cornwell so Hardy could shoot him.

The pair stopped at three locations before they finally found Cornwell at the home of his girlfriend, Kay Evans. Evans later testified that she heard a gunshot coming from outside the house, and when she went to investigate, she saw Hardy dressed in dark clothes with a long gun.

Evans said she heard Hardy say, “Now it’s over, Jim,” before he marched back toward a car. Hardy and another occupant in the vehicle then sped away.

Evans went into the garage, where she found her boyfriend had been shot in the face and neck. He died from his wounds a short time later.

A witness, Brandy Medlock, later came forward to say a man wearing dark clothing and carrying a shotgun had knocked on her door shortly before the murder. The man, later identified as Hardy, told Medlock that he was looking for someone called Jim Neal and that he would kill him and anyone with him when he found him.

Hardy left the scene after realizing his target, Cornwell, was not present. Medlock later helped the cops create a composite sketch of the man, which resembled Hardy.

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Girlfriend told cops Benjamin Hardy killed Jim Cornwell

However, the breakthrough came in October when Hardy’s girlfriend, Watkins, went to the police and told them she was afraid of her boyfriend and that he was the murderer.

Watkins explained that before the shooting, they had bought a shotgun at Walmart under her name and had a friend use a saw to shorten the firearm.

After the murder, Hardy and Watkins dismantled and disposed of the weapon. They also wiped down their car and abandoned it before they moved to St. Louis.

Using Watkins’s help, the cops managed to find the car, the spent shell casings, and the friend who had sawed off the shotgun. Hardy was promptly arrested and charged with murder.

Benjamin Hardy found guilty of murder of Jim Cornwell

Hardy was convicted of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In 2009, Hardy’s legal team filed an appeal arguing that a phrase uttered by the killer on his arrest should not have been used as incriminating evidence against him at his trial.

When Sergeant Folsom of the Highway Patrol arrested Hardy, the officer informed him that Watkins had come clean and read him his Miranda rights. Hardy responded with, “Sounds like I’m pretty much f****d. I think I’d better get a lawyer.” His defense team argued his response should not have been admitted as evidence.

The appeal failed, and Hardy is still serving a life sentence at the Jefferson City Correctional Center.

Murder in the Heartland airs Wednesdays at 9/8c on Investigation Discovery.

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