Jerry Solomon went to court last Friday hoping to get out of prison in a year or two. He went back to his cell with a good possibility of dying behind bars.
That's because the 58-year-old Scottsdale man, already in jail for conspiring to kill his girlfriend's husband, tried last week to make sure his intended victim never made it to court to testify against him at sentencing.
In a startling turn of events that had courthouse observers abuzz as word spread that something unusual was about to happen, county prosecutors asked Superior Court Judge Roger Kaufman to quash a plea bargain with Solomon because of new developments in the case.
It seems jail officials had intercepted a note--indisputably written by Solomon--that Solomon had tried to deliver on November 3 to a former cellmate, auto thief JC Riley, who was being released that day.
The one-page note, presented at the hearing by deputy county attorney Bill Perry, was snagged by jail officials while Riley was asleep, according to testimony presented at last week's hearing.
It said in part: "He will be coming up to Phoenix [for Friday's sentencing hearing]. I would prefer he NOT be in court if you can see to that for me. Please!! You know how very important this is to me."
Solomon's attorney, Allen Bickart, challenged police on the note, arguing, among other things, that Solomon didn't specifically ask Riley to kill his girlfriend's husband.
"I disagree with you," countered Phoenix police detective Jack Ballentine. "[Solomon] does not want him to be in court."
Solomon's criminal saga began last year. Phoenix police arrested the former interior design store owner in April 1997, after a sting led by Ballentine, the department's "murder for hire" expert.
A source tipped off police that Solomon wanted to hire someone to kill his lover's Tucson husband. Solomon had been married for about 32 years at the time, according to police reports, but had recently rekindled a romantic relationship with an old girlfriend--his teenage sweetheart from four decades ago.
Ballentine played the role of a Mafia hit man from "back East." Several phone conversations with Solomon led to two face-to-face meetings, during which Solomon reiterated his desire to have the husband killed by the professional "killer."
To show his good faith, according to police records, Solomon gave Ballentine a treasured gold companion bracelet; his wife had the other bracelet. The two discussed how the deed was to be done, including the possibility of running over the intended victim--a bicycle enthusiast--with a car while he was on a bike ride.
Police arrested Solomon at the Biltmore Fashion Park's Coffee Plantation after he met with Ballentine the second time and reconfirmed the handshake deal. He's been in custody ever since.
Prosecutors allowed Solomon to plead guilty to a reduced charge of facilitation that would have ranged from three and a half to eight and a half years.
With time served, however, it's likely that Solomon would have been released from prison in less than two years.
Instead, he's facing a minimum sentence of 25 years in prison, if convicted of the original charge of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.
Kaufman ordered both sides to submit written arguments by the end of this week, after which he'll decide whether to toss the plea bargain and reinstate the murder conspiracy charge. The latter, according to several people familiar with the case, seems highly likely in light of the evidence presented at Friday's hearing.
The intended victim, also a man in his 50s, did attend the court hearing, as did Solomon's aged parents.
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Though he called the note "serious, serious stuff," prosecutor Perry did not indicate whether his office will file new charges against Solomon.
Oddly, as sheriff's deputies led Solomon out of the courtroom, he extended his hand to Ballentine.
The detective declined to reciprocate the gesture.
Contact Paul Rubin at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org