Until Death Do Us Part page 2 of 2
Until Death Do Us Part:
Homicide vs. Divorce
The Michael Kuhnhausen Case
Michael Kuhnhausen had tried to talk his wife out of divorcing him but she was going through with it. The fifty-eight-year-old former custodial supervisor for a chain of adult video stores depended on his wife for support which included the insurance benefits from her job as an emergency room nurse. If Susan, seven years his junior, divorced him, he would be homeless and broke. He had suggested marriage counseling but she was finished with him. Michael felt he had no choice but to have her murdered before the divorce became final. First he had to find a hitman.
In 2005 when he worked for the adult video chain, Kuhnhausen had hired fifty-nine-year-old Edward Dalton Haffey as a part time janitor. Haffey, a heavy cocaine user, had just finished a twenty-year stretch in an Oregon state prison for conspiracy to commit murder. He had also been convicted of robbery, burglary, and numerous other crimes involving drugs. Kuhnhausen considered Haffey, a lifelong criminal, a good candidate for the murder assignment. He offered the ex-con a $50,000 piece of Susan’s life insurance. Dazzled at the prospect of so much money, Haffey agreed to kill his former boss’s wife.
On September 6, 2006, using the house key Michael Kuhnhausen had given him, Haffey entered Susan Kuhnhausen’s Portland home. He deactivated the intrusion alarm, removed a claw hammer from his backpack, and waited. On the kitchen table lay a note from Michael informing his wife that he was spending the day at the beach. The stage had been set for the cold-blooded home invasion killing.
At six in the evening, Susan Kuhnhausen, having completed her shift at the Providence Portland Medical Center, pulled into the driveway along side the dwelling. She let herself into the house and was wondering who had turned off the alarm when she received a glancing blow to the back of the head. She turned and came fact-to-face with a man with stringy hair and a long beard. He stood about five foot nine and weighted a hundred and seventy pounds. Although two inches shorter than her attacker, Susan outweighed the intruder by eighty pounds. Before he could strike her again, she wrestled him to the floor and managed to get him into a choke hold. She squeezed as hard as she could, and within a matter of minutes he stopped breathing and went limp. With a dead man lying on her kitchen floor, the slightly injured but badly shaken victim walked next door to call 911.
The police sized-up the situation quickly. Mrs. Kuhnhausen had interrupted a house burglar, the two had struggled, and he had died; an obvious case of justifiable homicide. As far as they were concerned, having ridden Portland of a violent criminal, Mrs. Kuhnhausen was a hero. The media reported it that way and the public agreed. Chalk one up for the home owner.
The police found a day planner in Haffey’s backpack with the September 6 notation: “Call Mike, get letter.” When they found Michael Kuhnhausen’s cell phone number in the dead man’s planner, detectives began to wonder if there was more to the case than a simple house burglary gone awry. That Haffey had known Mr. Kuhnhausen wasn’t, by itself, suspicious because Michael had been his boss. But it didn’t explain Haffey’s possession of the house key, and the fact he may have known the alarm code. Once investigators learned of the pending divorce and how it would affect Mr. Kuhnhausen, he became a suspect in a murder-for-hire case, one that hadn’t gone well for the hitman.
Haffey’s autopsy helped explain why he had been overpowered by his victim. According to the medical examiner, at the time of his death, his body contained a near lethal dose of cocaine. He had been too drug-addled to commit the murder.
Barry Somers, a former prison acquaintance of Haffey’s, saw the Kuhnhausen story on the local news and called the police. In August Haffey had bragged that a man was paying him $50,000 to kill his wife. He wanted to know if Somers, for $5,000, would lend him a hand. Somers told Haffey he wouldn’t help kill a person for $5,000. A human life was worth more than that.
Three days before his death, Haffey had told his cocaine dealer that he would be coming into big money after he killed a woman for her husband. He said he would be paid $25,000 up front and the rest when he completed the job. The drug dealer, when she saw the story on television, also called the police.
According to another police witness named Harold Jones, a few days before Mrs. Kuhnhausen choked Haffey to death, he had driven him to an Applebee’s restaurant where he had met with Mr. Kuhnhausen. Haffey, a contract killer who couldn’t keep a secret, told his driver he was meeting a man who was going to pay him $50,000 for killing his wife.
On September 14, eight days following the botched hit, police arrested Michael Kuhnhausen on charges of attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. (Since Haffey had died in the commission of a felony of which Kuhnhausen was allegedly a conspirator, he could have been charged with felony murder as well.) The magistrate set his bail at $500,000. Kuhnhausen’s lawyer asserted that his client was innocent, that Haffey, acting on his own, had entered the house through a window for the purpose of burglarizing the place for drug money.
The John Corrion Case
John and Karen Corrion had been divorced a year. He had remarried, but the anger and resentment he harbored for his ex-wife, a woman he believed had bled him dry, continued to simmer. The fifty-eight-year-old struggled to support his second wife which caused his bitterness over losing the two-year divorce battle to escalate into a visceral hatred of his former spouse. At ten at night on May 10, 2005, Karen Corrion, the object of her former husband’s wrath, heard a noise coming from the backyard of her rural home in Howell Township, Michigan. Walking into the dark to investigate, she encountered Mr. Corrion who hit her in the head, back, neck and arms with his flashlight. He fled into the woods leaving her with a torn scalp requiring twenty stitches and as many staples. Corrion had also fractured his ex-wife’s wrist and ripped the cartilage in one of her knees. Faced with the possibility of an attempted murder conviction, John Corrion pleaded guilty to aggravated assault. The judge, designating him “a sick and angry man,” sentenced him to a year in the Livingston County Jail.
Broke and in jail for a year, Corrion was not about to let go of his anger and give up the fight. In the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, he figured that for someone in the market for a hitman, he was not in a bad place. After talking obsessively to several inmates about how his evil ex-wife was hogging all of his money, and how badly he wanted her dead, Corrion decided that Leonard Johnson, a check forger from Florida who was nearing the end of his sentence, was the man for the job. Corrion promised Johnson $20,000 for the hit, and to show his good faith, had his current wife, who had no clue what was going on, deposit $100 in his jail account. Johnson, after assuring Corrion he was up for the task, reported him to the sheriff’s office.
From that point on Johnson recorded his conversations with Corrion on a hidden tape recorder. As an undercover police operative, Johnson led Corrion to believe that the quickest way to get the job done was to bring in Johnson’s brother-in-law who needed the money. Corrion approved the brother-in-law idea. “So,” Johnson asked, “how will you pay him?”
“It will be cash,” Corrion replied.
“What’s the most efficient way do it?”
“A standoff weapon.”
“A gun’s pretty loud. My brother-in-law is efficient with a bow and arrow. I’ll tell him to make sure not to use a flashlight,” Johnson said, referring to the reason Corrion was in jail. If Corrion got the joke he didn’t let on. He approved of the bow and arrow as the murder weapon as long as the brother-in-law retrieved the arrow and cleaned it’s tip with alcohol to remove traces of blood that could link the projectile to the victim through DNA analysis. He told Johnson to make sure the hitman wore gloves and was careful not to leave tire tracks in the vicinity of the murder scene. Corrion also wanted Johnson to instruct his brother-in-law not to be spotted by neighbors or passing motorists. He also gave Johnson detailed instruction on how his brother-in-law could approach the house to avoid the surveillance cameras his wife had installed after their divorce.
Corrion’s murder solicitation trial lasted three days, featuring the testimony of his ex- wife and the defendant’s recorded jailhouse conversations with Leonard Johnson. In her testimony, Mrs. Corrion described the contentious divorce as well as the night her ex-husband attacked her in the backyard with the flashlight. “John is a very angry man,” she said.
Except for an ineffectual attack on the character of the jailhouse informant, made irrelevant by the taped conversations, there wasn’t much the defense attorney could do but keep his client from testifying and hope for the best. The jury quickly found the defendant guilty of solicitation of murder. A month later the judge sentenced John Corrion to a life behind bars, a place where he’d be rubbing shoulders with real hitmen who had little to lose. For his former spouse, the woman he had victimized twice, this was not a comforting thought.
The Robert Jay Heximer Case
Although there may be a lot of angry men who solicit the murders of their ex-wives in the wake of contentious divorces, one wouldn’t expect that at any given time there would be two such masterminds in a small country jail. In April 2006, as Leonard Johnson secretly taped his conversations with John Corrion, Robert Jay Heximer, another inmate in the Livingston County lockup, asked an undercover police officer from the Ann Arbor Police Department to murder his ex-wife. The forty-one-year old Handy Township man had been locked up for kidnapping and assaulting his former spouse Angela. During a jail visit with the undercover officer, Heximer pressed the back of a business card against the glass partition which read: “Wife Angela dead, 10 K ASAP.” He then ate the card. Heximer had told a murder-for-hire intermediary that he wanted the homicide to look like a traffic accident.
At his January 2007 assault, kidnapping and murder solicitation trial, Heximer claimed he had written “Wife Angela dear [not dead] 10 K ASAP” on the back of the business card. The jury didn’t buy it and found him guilty. A month later, at his sentencing hearing, Heximer said he had fallen “prey” to John Corrion’s “way of thinking.” Referring to his victim, Heximer said, “I acknowledge she was fearful, but it was not my intent to hurt her.” Unmoved by the convicted man’s words of remorse, the judge sentenced him to seven and to twenty years on the assault and kidnapping conviction, and up to thirty-five years for murder solicitation.
The Edward Locascio Case
Police officers in Coral Gables, Florida, on October 30, 2001, responded to an intrusion alarm signal coming from a mansion owned by Silvia Locascio. Upon entering the house they found the fifty-one-year-old occupant dead in the breakfast nook. She had been beaten with a blunt object and stabbed several times with a kitchen knife. The timing of the murder, on the eve of a court-ordered hearing requiring her estranged husband to reveal his financial holdings pursuant to the couple’s ongoing divorce, placed Edward Locascio at the top of the suspect list. Since the wealthy accountant had a solid alibi, detectives suspected he had paid someone to murder his wife. But until they identified the hitman, Mr. Locascio would remain a mere suspect.
A week after the murder, a neighbor found a bag of bloody clothing a block from the Locascio house. Suspecting that the victim’s husband had hired his younger brother Michael to commit the murder, the police had the bloody clothes analyzed to determine if the blood was his. A DNA analyst identified Michael Locascio as the source of the stains which led to his arrest for first-degree murder. In March 2006, based upon the DNA evidence, a jury found Michael Locascio guilty as charged.
A year following his brother’s conviction, Edward Locascio went on trial as the man who had orchestrated his estranged wife’s murder. Because his brother continued to maintain his innocence, denying any knowledge of the murder, the case against Edward Locascio was strictly circumstantial. The prosecutor hoped to acquire a conviction by establishing the defendant’s strong motive to have his wife killed. Just before her death, after years of marital abuse, Mrs. Locascio had infuriated Locascio by filing a restraining order against him. Taking the stand for the prosecution, the defendant’s eighteen-year-old son told the jury he was absolutely certain his father was behind the murder. The witness based this belief on the fact he had overheard his father threaten to kill his mother several times. At the conclusion of the trial, the threats, the abuse, and the defendant’s resentment over sharing half of the marital wealth with a woman he hated, provided the jury with enough evidence to convict him of first-degree murder. The judge sent Edward Locascio and his brother Michael off to prison for life. Both, to this day, claim they are innocent.
Michael owed his fate to DNA science while Edward went to prison because Michael, with no motive of his own to commit the murder, was his brother. Moreover, Edward had been an abusive husband with a strong reason to have his wife murdered. In an era in which crimes of this nature are no longer unthinkable, indeed fairly common, this is enough evidence to sustain a murder-for-hire conviction. In a country of sociopathic narcissists who feel entitled to happiness and the good life, and willing to do whatever it takes to get it, the presumption of innocence is easier to rebut.