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Playing for Keeps Over Child Custody

In the battle of who gets what in a divorce, the most contentious issue often centers around who will have principal access to, and responsibility for, the children. Parents who believe they have gotten a raw deal in the custody fight are embittered. Quite often they are fathers who resent supporting children from whom they have become estranged. Some parents who have lost custody to ex-spouses they consider unfit to raise their children have taken the law into their own hands. Fathers and mothers who go outside the law to regain custody of their children either kidnap them, murder their former spouses, or pay hitmen to solve the problem. In cases like this, the mastermind’s hatred of the estranged or former spouse, and the desire to win, is often the true force behind the murder. Gaining custody of one’s children can be a rationalization for revenge.

The Daniel Bowen Case

The Bowens were an unlikely couple. Forty-four-year-old Daniel, a political ward captain, worked as a janitor at the Chicago Cultural Center. He and his wife, Anne Treonis-Bowen, an attorney with the Illinois Liquor Control Commission, were in the midst of a nasty divorce that included a custody battle over their daughters who were five and six. Daniel couldn’t stand the idea that his wife, the one with the better job, the one who would end up with house and most of the marital assets, was about to become the dominant person in their children’s lives.  She would make all of the parental decisions while he’d  be relegated to the role of a visiting uncle. This was an attack on his manhood. This was humiliating. It was the hatred of his wife, not the love of his children, that drove Daniel Bowen to homicide.

In February 2004, Daniel offered Dennis McArdle, his friend since childhood, $2,000 upfront and $20,000 out of Anne Treonis-Bowen’s life insurance. All he had to do was kill her. Dennis also tempted his friend with a cushy, low-level city job.  McArdle, a convicted felon, alcoholic, and drug addict, an untrustworthy incompetent with no prospects and nothing to lose, accepted the assignment. From a man he barely knew, McArdle purchased, for $500, a .38 caliber revolver and a handmade silencer that didn’t work when he and Bowen test-fired the weapon in the basement of the cultural center. Bowen scheduled the murder for March 4, 2004. He would make certain to be in the presence of others the moment McArdle killed his wife.

As murder plots go, this one was simple. McArdle was to shoot the victim after she parked her car that morning at the Chicago transit authority station southwest of the city. One would think that an amateur hitman might have trouble sleeping on the night before a murder. This was not the case with Mr. McArdle who missed his opportunity by oversleeping. The next morning he got up in time for the job. Wearing a ski mask and latex gloves, McArldle came up behind the victim in the el station parking lot and shot her once in the back of the head. He took her handbag to make the execution style murder look like a homicidal purse snatching. Like most contract killings intended to look like something else, the disguise, even to an untrained eye, was transparent.

Although he had worn gloves to avoid  linking himself to the murder by fingerprints, and had disposed of the victim’s wallet and the murder weapon,  McArdle took the victim’s purse back to his apartment building and hid it in the basement. A few days later the owner of the building found the purse, and inside it, a prescription bottle bearing the murdered woman’s name. The landlord called the police.  While McArdle wasn’t the only tenant in the building with a history of crime and addiction, he was the only resident  one-handshake away from the murdered woman. Ten days after the shooting, detectives brought the suspect in for questioning. In confessing to the murder, McArdle implicated his old friend Daniel Bowen and expressed a willingness, if the occasion arose, to testify against him at trial. The forty-two-year-old hitman, suffering from cirrhosis and hepatitis, didn’t think he had much longer to live. The police, worried that their star witness would soon die, quickly arrested Daniel Bowen. But in September 2004, before Bowen’s case came to trial, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. Thanks to him, his children were orphans. A month later, in consideration for his guilty plea, a judge sentenced McArdle to thirty-five years in prison. Within a few years he would be dead as well. Murder-for-hire, like ransom kidnapping, was a crime of desperation and failure committed by fools. 

The Ira Bloom Case

Zhanna Portnov, a political refugee from Russia, emigrated to the United States in 1992. Two years later she met and married Ira A. Bloom, a violent and sadistic criminal who made her as miserable in America as she had been in her home country. She had simply traded nightmares.  In the summer of 2004, following a string of restraining orders, she divorced him and gained custody of their eight-year-old son. Bloom, dissatisfied with his three-day-a-week visitation rights, petitioned the judge for full custody. Six weeks before the August 2005 hearing on his child custody appeal, Bloom decided to guarantee victory by having his ex-wife murdered.

Following the separation, Bloom had moved from the family home in Enfield, Connecticut to East Longmeadow, Massachusetts outside of Springfield. From there he would plot his wife’s death and commit the second mistake most masterminds make (the first being the decision to commit murder).  This commonly made blunder involves either choosing hitmen who botch the job, or reaching out to people who run to the police. In consulting his friend Donald Levesque, a man with underworld connections, Bloom picked a wannabe cop who had been snitching off narcotics peddlers and weapons dealers to the local police and to Alcohol, Tax, and Firearms Bureau (ATF)agents.

Bloom asked Levesque to find a man to carjack Zhanna as she drove home from the chiropractor’s office in Enfield where she worked as a receptionist.  Bloom wanted the hitman to rape then kill his ex-wife. Her body, under Bloom’s plan, was to be dumped somewhere in Hartford. Snitch that he was, Levesque went straight to the ATF. The informant told the agents that Bloom was willing to pay the hitman, after the life insurance money became available, $15,000. Because the mastermind had used “interstate commerce facilities in the commission of murder-for-hire,” the ATF, under 18 USC section 1958, had jurisdiction over the crime. Working with local law enforcement in Connecticut and Massachusetts, the feds took charge of the investigation.

On July 8, 2005, three days after he had met with Bloom, Levesque, wearing a recording device and driving a car wired for sound, waited for him in the parking lot outside the Hometown Buffet in Enfield. To the amazement of Levesque, ATF agents, and the local police, Bloom showed up for the murder-for-hire meeting accompanied by  a woman he had just met. Was this his idea of a date?  The three of them entered the restaurant and took a booth. Bloom, referring to his battle to regain custody of his son, said, “I’m really tired of this game anyway. This will save me. I mean, I only owe my lawyer about $500 right now. If we go to court on August 12, I’ll owe him about another fifteen grand by then. So everything’s gone. I mean, she’s dead.” Before the meeting broke up, Levesque, acting on instructions from his handlers who wanted evidence of Bloom’s criminal intent, asked the mastermind for a hand-drawn map showing the way to Zhanna’s place of employment. “You think I’m gonna give you a map?” Bloom said. “We’ll all go to jail.” Levesque persisted, and a few minutes later Bloom sketched a crude map onto a napkin.

In Levesque’s car outside the restaurant, he and Bloom, with the mastermind’s date seated in the back seat, continued discussing the hit. When enough had been said to justify an arrest, the officers rushed the car. Just before being  yanked out of the vehicle, Bloom looked at Levesque and said, “Don, what did you do to me?”

On October 6, 2006, a federal jury sitting in Hartford, after deliberating three hours, found Ira Bloom guilty of conspiracy to murder his ex-wife. While the defendant had not taken the stand on his own behalf, his attorney, in his closing argument, characterized the conversation in the restaurant as nothing more than his client’s blowing off  steam. In support of this argument, the attorney pointed out that if Bloom had really been serious, he wouldn’t have brought a date to the meeting.  Date or not, after listening to the tape, the jurors were convinced that the defendant had been dead serious. The judge sentenced Bloom to ten years, the maximum allowed. 

The Ronald Samuels Case

Heather Samuels, a twenty-six-year old former flight attendant, after five years of marriage to a Pensacola, Florida car dealer who sold  drugs and ran with other women, left him and returned to her parent’s house in Minnesota. Ronald, her burly, Brooklyn born, six foot four inch husband who was eighteen years her senior, immediately moved his girlfriend into their Florida house. The couple had three children who, after the divorce became final in 1994, were placed into Heather Samuels’ custody by a Santa Rosa County judge. After spending thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees in his fight to win custody of the children, the court ordered Ronald to pay Heather $3,000 a month in child support. Angry that his ex-wife would be raising the children, at his expense in Minnesota, Ronald vowed to fight the domestic court decision. In 1995 Ronald married  Deborah Love, the woman who had moved into the Florida house following his separation from Heather. Ronald’s resentment over the child custody situation turned to wrath in June 1997 when Heather married John Grossman, the son of Bud Grossman, the former part owner of the Minnesota Vikings. Heather, the children, and her new husband, the heir to a multi-million dollar estate, moved from Minnesota to Boca Raton. With his ex-wife and new husband now living in south Florida, Ronald Samuels decided it was now possible to have them both murdered.

Samuels had sold the Toyota dealership and was making his living selling cocaine, banking his drug profits in the Cayman Islands. In September 1997, Samuels paid Hugh Estes, a fifty-year-old cocaine addict, $5,000 to arrange the double murder. Samuels told the former insurance company employee that his ex-wife was a gold digger who had cheated on him before the divorce. Grossman had to be murdered, he said, because he was abusing the children. Instead of using the hit money to buy a weapon and recruit a killer, Estes went on a cocaine binge. This forced Samuels to ask Geoffrey Pollock, another drug addict, for help. A week later, at a Denny’s restaurant, Pollock introduced Samuels to Eddie “Slim” Stafford, a third cocaine junkie who said he had found a trigger man, a former Army marksman named Roger Runyon. Stafford assured Samuels that Runyon, a competent, cold-blooded killer, would murder the ex-wife and her new husband. Samuels provided Stafford with the usual murder-for-hire intelligence which included photographs, the targets’ address, a description of their cars, and their daily routines. Samuels had now assembled his murder-for-hire team—three junkie accomplices and a guy he had never met who used to be in the Army. Samuels would pay the accomplices in cocaine and the hitman  $5,000 down and $20,000 when he completed the job.

Late in the afternoon of October 14, 1997, as John and Heather Grossman sat at a traffic light in Boca Raton, Eddie “Slim” Stafford pulled up along side them in Hugh Estes’ 1996 green Ford Thunderbird. From the back seat Roger Runyon fired two rifle bullets into the Grossman vehicle. The first slug grazed John Grossman’s chin, the second severed Heather’s spine, paralyzing her for life. From Samuels’ point of view, the cocaine addicts and their hitman had bungled the job. The targets were alive and there were no second chances. It would have been better if Runyon had missed completely.

The victims, certain that Samuels was behind the ambush, provided the police with an immediate suspect. Shortly after the highway shooting, detectives traced the Thunderbird to Estes who gave up Stafford and Runyon who, in return for immunity, identified Ronald Samuels as the mastermind behind the botched murder plot. The three addicts and the failed hitman testified before a grand jury that, in May 1998, returned an indictment charging Ronald Samuels with attempted murder, solicitation of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.

Divorced from his second wife Deborah, Samuels avoided arrest by fleeing to Mexico where, less than a year later, he was convicted in the state of Neueno Leon for possessing thirteen pounds of cocaine. In 2004, upon completion of his Mexican sentence, U.S. Marshals picked him up on federal charges related to passport fraud. They hauled him to New Orleans where he was tried and convicted of that offense and sentenced to prison.

Heather had divorced John Grossman in 2003. She was living with her parents who had moved from Minnesota to Phoenix, Arizona. In February 2005, after serving his sentence in Louisiana, the authorities extradited Samuels to Palm Beach, Florida to be tried on the murder charges. Before the trial got underway in October 2006, John Grossman died of a heart attack. He was fifty-five.

The West Palm Beach County prosecutor offered Samuels a deal in return for a guilty plea. Samuels rejected the offer and the case went to trial. The government’s key witnesses, the accomplices Pollock, Estes, and Stafford, and Runyon, the hitman who had paralyzed the victim, testified under immunity. Heather, seated in a wheelchair and breathing with the help of a ventilator, took the strand as well. Samuel’s second wife Deborah testified that the defendant really didn’t care about his children. He simply didn’t like paying child support money to a woman he considered a gold-digger. She described the defendant as a man who had temper tantrums whenever he didn’t get what he wanted.

Samuel’s defense centered around the idea that Runyon and his three accomplices were dregs of society without any credibility. He described his “persecution” as a wealthy and influential family’s revenge for something he didn’t do. Against the advice of his defense attorneys, Samuels took the stand on his own behalf. Coming off as arrogant and hostile, he did not make a sympathetic witness. On October 31, 2006, the jury found him guilty on all accounts. The next day the judge sentenced him to life in prison plus 120 years.

Ronald Samuels and his murder-for-hire team were drug-addled sociopaths who were criminally stupid. Nevertheless, to successfully prosecute the mastermind, the prosecutor felt he had to give the three murder accomplices and the would-be hitman a free pass. This case reflects, sadly, what often passes for success in the world of criminal justice.

The Beth Carpenter Case

When Kim Carpenter met Anson “Buzz” Clinton III in the summer of 1992, she was a twenty-two-year-old divorcee living with her two-year-old daughter Rebecca in her parents’ house in Ledyard, Connecticut. Buzz, a twenty-six-year-old exotic dancer with a son who was three, had been divorced as well. Buzz and Kim got married that winter in Lyme, Connecticut at the Clinton family home. Buzz, having given up exotic dancing, had a job as a nurse’s assistant in a southeastern Connecticut convalescent home. Kim was three months pregnant.

Before Kim and Buzz were married, Kim’s parents, Richard and Cynthia Carpenter, had taken care of Kim’s daughter Rebecca. The had become quite attached to their granddaughter and were concerned that Kim and her new husband, a man they did not consider worthy of their daughter, would not be suitable parents. They wanted Rebecca back under their roof. In November 1993, the Carpenters, alleging that Buzz was abusing their granddaughter, went to court in an attempt to gain legal custody of the little girl. Kim and Buzz denied the allegation and fought to retain custody. The family court judge ruled against the Carpenters, denying them custody of their granddaughter. Kim had since given birth to Buzz’s child, and was pregnant again. There was so much bad blood between Buzz and Kim’s parents, he began making plans to move his family to Arizona. The Carpenters were sickened by the possibility that their beloved granddaughter might be taken out of their reach by a mother who couldn’t care for her and a man they believed was abusive. They felt helpless and were on the verge of panic.

On the morning of March 10, 1994, a motorist coming of the East Lyme off-ramp on I-95, saw the body of a man lying along the highway not far from an idling 1986 Pontiac Firebird. Buzz Clinton had been shot five times then driven over by a vehicle as he lay on the road. Detectives with the Connecticut State Police learned that earlier that morning someone had called Buzz about a tow truck he had for sale. They assumed Buzz had been murdered after getting out of his Firebird to meet the potential buyer who was perhaps following him to the truck he was selling. Detectives were unable to identify this caller and the investigation stalled. Moreover, whoever had murdered Clinton had not done it for his wallet or anything of value. Without a motive or a suspect, investigators quickly ran out of leads and the case had to be shelved. In the meantime, Kim and Rebecca and the two children fathered by Buzz, moved in with her parents in Ledyard.

On May 25, 1995, ten months after the murder, the state police received a call that shot life back into the investigation. The caller, who didn’t identify herself, said that her ex-boyfriend and one of his associates had been involved in Buzz Clinton’s murder. The anonymous caller named the principals but failed to say why Buzz had been killed.

The tipster’s ex, forty-year-old Joseph Fremut, and his friend, a biker dude from Deep River, Connecticut named Mark Depres, had criminal histories involving petty crimes and drug dealing. But neither man, as far as detectives could determine, had any direct link to Buzz Clinton, and therefore no motive to kill him.

Detectives looking into Mark Dupres’s background eventually found an indirect and rather thin connection between the biker and the victim. Dupres’s lawyer, Haiman Clein, worked in the New London law firm that employed Kim’s sister, Beth Carpenter. When questioned by the police, Joseph Fremut, the informant’s ex-boyfriend, said that Mark Dupres had been the one who had murdered Buzz Clinton. Fremut said he had been involved in the planning phase of the homicide, but had not been with Dupres when the shooting took place. According to Fremut, Dupres’s lawyer, Haiman Clein, had paid Dupres to do the job for another lawyer who worked at the New London law firm.

A few days later, Mark Depres confessed to the Connecticut State Police. He admitted being  the person who had called Buzz Clinton about the tow truck. Accompanied by his fifteen-year-old son Chris, he had driven to Clinton’s house that morning. From there they were to follow Clinton to the truck. As they were coming off exit 72 in East Lyme, Dupres blinked his lights signaling Clinton to pull over. As Clinton approached the driver’s side of the Oldsmobile Cutlass, Dupres got out of his car to meet him. Between the two vehicles, Dupres took out his revolver and shot Clinton five times. As Dupres pulled from the scene, with Chris in the front seat of the car, he drove over Clinton’s body. The killer’s interrogators said they didn’t understand why he had committed cold blooded murder in front of his son. Dupres, who apparently didn’t get the point of the question, shrugged his shoulders and said that his boy hadn’t done anything wrong.

Dupres told the detectives he had killed Buzz Clinton for his attorney, Haiman Clein. In payment for the murder, the lawyer had given him $1,000 in upfront money. According to their agreement, Dupres was to get $4,000 after the hit. As it turned out, Clein had only paid him an additional $500. Haiman Clein, who didn’t know Buzz Clinton, was just the middleman. The fifty-three-year-old attorney had arranged the murder for Beth Carpenter, a beautiful young lawyer in the New London firm who happened to be Buzz Clinton’s sister-in-law. Clein and the thirty-year-old blonde were having an affair. Dupres had met Beth Carpenter in Clein’s office. On that occasion the three of them discussed the murder plan in some detail. From Carpenter, Dupres  acquired a photograph of the target, his work address, and the license number of his Pontiac Firebird. Beth Carpenter said that she wanted Clinton dead because he was abusing her niece, Rebecca. She said her parents had tried but failed to gain legal custody of the little girl. That’s when Beth, without her parents’ knowledge, began planning Clinton’s death. It was all about Rebbeca. Shortly before Dupres murdered Buzz Clinton, Beth Carpenter moved to London, England.

Charged with capital murder and conspiracy to commit murder, Joseph Fremut and Mark Dupres, pursuant to plea agreements, said they would testify against Haiman Clein and Beth Carpenter. In Dupres’s case, the prosecutor promised to recommend a sentence that didn’t exceed forty-five years. The triggerman’s son, having been granted immunity, also agreed to testify against the two lawyers.

Haiman Clein avoided arrest by fleeing the state. Beth Carpenter told FBI agents stationed in London that Clein had been the mastermind behind Buzz Clinton’s death. Claiming total innocence, she denied prior knowledge of the murder. She agreed to help the FBI find the unlawful flight fugitive, who, every so often, called her from a public telephone.  In February 1996, FBI agents arrested Clein as he stood by a telephone booth in Long Beach, California. He had been awaiting a call from Beth Carpenter.

Clein claimed to be innocent for sixteen months before accepting a plea bargain arrangement similar to the one given his former client and friend, triggerman Mark Dupres. Betrayed by Beth Carpener, the murder-for-hire mastermind, he confessed to his role as the middleman in the deadly scheme. This gave the prosecutor enough evidence to charge Carpenter, on August 26, 1997, with capital murder and conspiracy to commit it. No longer in London, she had moved to Dublin where she was living under her own name. In November, the Irish police took her into custody. Claiming she had been framed by Haiman Clein who sought revenge because she had ratted him out to the FBI, Carpenter fought extradition to the United States. Because the prosecutor in Connecticut sought the death penalty, the authorities in Ireland, pursuant to a policy that forbade extraditing foreign fugitives who could be executed in their home countries, refused to send her back. The following year, as Carpenter sat in an Irish jail, Dupres and Clein pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to forty-five years in prison.

In June 1999, after the Connecticut prosecutor promised not to seek the death penalty, Beth Carpenter was sent home to face charges she had orchestrated the murder of Buzz Clinton. Because she had already spent nineteen months behind bars, the judge released her on $150,000 bail and allowed her to await trial under house arrest in her parents’ home. The televised trial (Court TV) began in February 2001, eight years after Mark Dupres pumped five bullets into Buzz Clinton as he walked toward the killer’s car parked alongside the I-95 off-ramp. Appearing for the prosecution, the victim’s mother, Dee Clinton, described how hard the defendant’s parents had fought to wrest custody of Rebecca from her son and his wife Kim. The custody battle had created bad blood between Buzz and the Carpenter family, thus providing the motive behind the murder-for-hire.

The triggerman’s son, Chris Dupres, testified that until the shooting took place, he had no idea what his father was going to do. As they left the scene the car rolled over the victim’s body. Ten minutes after the killing, his father smashed the murder weapon with a hammer and tossed the pieces into the woods.

Haiman Clein, sixty-one and disbarred, took the stand on March 8, 2002. In December 1993, shortly after the Carpenters lost their custody battle for Rebecca, the defendant told Clein that as long as Buzz Clinton was alive, Rebecca was in danger and beyond the reach of her protection. Finally she came right out and asked if he would arrange to have someone kill the source of the problem. At first Clein wasn’t sure she was serious, but when Beth kept bringing up the subject, he realized that she really wanted this man dead. In late January 1994, Clein brought Beth, his colleague and lover, and Mark Dupres, his client and friend, together in his office to discus the murder. According to Clein, a month before Dupres was to do the job, he got cold feet and called off the hit. A couple of weeks after that, the hit was back on after the defendant came to him in tears claiming that Buzz Clinton had locked Rebecca in the basement and had burned her with a cigarette.

At four in the morning on March 11, 1993, less than twenty-four hours after the murder, Beth Carpenter called Clein and said she was worried sick and had to see him. In bed with his wife, Clein got dressed and drove to Norwich to calm his anxious mistress. When he got to her apartment she refused to discuss the murder because she was afraid the FBI had the place bugged.

Clein testified that when Dupres told him he had taken his son along on the hit, the attorney was furious. How stupid could you get? If the kid talked, they’d all end up in prison. Now Clein had something to worry about.

Mark Dupres, the prosecution’s most important witness, took the stand and implicated himself, Clein, and the defendant. Following the hitman’s testimony, the state rested. As murder-for-hire trials go, the prosecution had presented a solid case, one that would require a strong defense. To provide that defense, Beth Carpenter’s attorneys put their best witness on the stand, the defendant herself.

Beth Carpenter testified that when Haiman Clein found out about Buzz Clinton and what he was doing to Rebecca, he arranged the hit on his own volition to solve the problem for her and her niece. After she had found out what he had done on her behalf, she didn’t turn him in because “I needed to be with him. I wasn’t a whole person.” Shocked by what he had done, she had said to him, “Only someone who is crazy would do something like this.”  To that, Clein had replied, “Don’t you see? You don’t have anything to worry about anymore.”

On April 12, 2002, the jury found Beth Carpenter guilty. The defendant and her attorneys, thinking that Clein and Dupres had not been believable witnesses, were stunned by the verdict. Four months later, the judge complied with the terms of the Irish extradition agreement by sentencing Beth Carpenter to life without parole.

The Paul Driggers Case

Paul Driggers knew that if he filed for divorce, his wife Janice (not her real name), would fight for custody of their children and win. She would prevail because of his background of crime which included a ten-year stretch in prison. So the fifty-three-year-old Idaho man came up with a plan to file for divorce without his wife knowing it, causing her to lose by default. In February 2005, after creating a false mail drop address for himself and Janice in Post Falls, Idaho, Driggers traveled to Bannock County in the southern part of the state where he filed for divorce. Janice, oblivious to what he was up to, failed to respond to the court papers sent to the phony address. Paul Driggers had divorced his wife without her knowing it. She was also unaware that the judge had awarded Driggers full custody of their son and two daughters.

Although divorced, Driggers and his ex-wife continued to live under the same roof as man and wife. In September 2005, after pleading guilty to hitting one of his daughters with a belt, the judge sentenced him to 180 days in jail. Shortly after his release, he threatened Janice with a handgun, which, because he was an ex-felon, he was not supposed to possess. Driggers denied the allegation, and the charges were dropped.

In February 2006, after Janice learned from a social worker that she and the man she had been living with had been divorced for a year, she threw him out of the house. Because they had had sex under the false pretense of marriage, Janice filed charges of rape that a judge eventually dismissed. Paul countered by suing his ex-wife to recover some of his possessions that included a wall plaque which read, “Families are Forever.” He also retaliated by filing a report with a county child protection agency accusing her of physically abusing their children. The agency responded by placing them into foster care until an investigator determined if the allegations were true. With the children out of his ex-wife’s possession and temporarily up for grabs, Paul Driggers made his move. He asked a man he had met in prison if he knew of someone who would be interested in making some money by killing his ex-wife.

Early in April 2006, Drigger’s, acting on his prison associates’ recommendation, called a man in Hayward, California named Matt Robinson and offered him $10,000 for the job. Driggers said he would deposit $1,000 in Robinson’s bank account to pay for his trip to northern Idaho where they would plan and carry out the murder. Robinson, having left Driggers with the impression he would think about the offer, reported the solicitation to the Hayward police who hooked him up with the FBI. After meeting with FBI agents, Robinson agreed to accept Drigger’s offer and travel to Idaho to help the authorities  make the murder-for-hire solicitation case.

On April 25, 2006, Driggers and Robinson met in a restaurant in Coeur d’Alene. They discussed, in addition to the murder, a number of criminal schemes including the manufacture of methamphetamine and the counterfeiting of documents to be used in identify theft. Three months later, on July 21, Driggers drove his gold Jaguar onto the parking lot of the Lowe’s Home Improvement store in Coeur d’Alene.  He was there to meet Robinson who was wired for sound. Driggers handed the man he thought would be killing his ex-wife another $1,000 and promised to pay the balance in $500 monthly installments. Driggers also gave Robinson a photograph of Janice and a handmade map showing how to get to her house in Priest River. The map, carefully drawn and detailed, included suggested escape routes. In order to maintain contact with his hitman as the plot unfolded, Driggers had purchased a pair of walkie-talkies. Driggers also instructed Robinson on how to dispose of Janice’s corpse. This mastermind was leaving nothing to chance.

Driggers, explaining to Robinson that killing his ex-wife was the only way he could acquire custody of his children, anticipated that the police would suspect him of having her murdered. “They don’t like me,” he said. “They hate me. They’d like to put a needle in my arm….We’ve already made some mistakes. I don’t want to get hurt on this. The first three months the investigation is going to be intense. They’re going to check everything….I’m the green light, but you’re driving the car. You have a couple of options. You can keep the money and go home. You can do it and get it done, or try to do it, and if it’s too difficult, you can drop it.”

The next day, July 22, 2006, Driggers called Robinson and gave him the final go-ahead for the operation. Ten days later, FBI agents who had been keeping track of him, arrested Driggers on the charge of attempted murder-for-hire. When informed that his conversations with Robinson had been audio-taped, Driggers surprised the arresting agents by insisting he was innocent.

From his Kootenai County jail cell, a week after being taken into custody, Driggers, referring to his ex-wife as a “vindictive schizophrenic,” said this to a local newspaper reporter: “I’m the one who’s really being abused. There’s been such a climate of fear and paranoia in my case that any action I take to try and protect my property is determined as a move toward hurting my ex-wife, to physically hurt my ex-wife.”

A federal grand jury, three weeks after Drigger’s press interview, indicted him for using interstate commerce to facilitate a murder-for-hire scheme. The trial got underway, in the federal courthouse in Coeur d’Alene, on January 3, 2007. Driggers, insisting that he was the true victim in the case, had promised reporters that when jurors heard his side of the story, they would find him not guilty. But before he got the opportunity to defend himself on the stand, the jury heard the conversation Matt Robinson had taped in the Lowe’s parking lot. After playing the two-hour recording, the government rested its case.

On January 11, Driggers, wearing a raspberry colored blazer, climbed into the witness box with the intent of portraying himself as the victim. He had been so distraught over the possibility of losing custody of his children he had gone to bed every night under the influence of sleeping pills and booze. “It was hard to get out of bed in the morning because I’d always hear the voices of my children, saying, ‘Daddy, daddy, we want to come home.’ I lost the purpose of my life. I had no reason to live.” In addressing the issue of his murder-for-hire conversation with Robinson, Driggers dismissed it as a “hypothetical” discussion in which he was merely exploring possible solutions to his “predicament.” “There’s a difference,” he said, “between a statement and an agreement. I didn’t want to kill her. I was upset about many things happening in my life.”

The jury, following a brief period of deliberation, found Driggers guilty of attempted murder-for-hire. The verdict surprised no one. But the case wasn’t over. Drigger’s attorney, noting that a copy of his clients rap sheet had inadvertently found its way into the jury room, moved for a mistrial. The jurors were not supposed to know about the defendant’s criminal history. Although only one juror actually looked at the document, the judge had no choice but to rule a mistrial.

The following month Driggers was tried again on the same evidence, the taped murder-for-hire conversation. The second jury, requiring little time to deliberate, found him guilty. The judge sentenced Driggers to the maximum penalty allowed under federal law, a $17,000 fine and ten years in prison.

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com