Lord of the Lies

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How that could have helped Shawna is uncertain.

But she said Owens had promised her that such a tape couldn't be used against Mark because of what he called "the pillow-talk law," presumably the legal privilege against incriminating her husband.

Shawna said Owens had told her to meet him at Edifice Lex the following morning, September 15. When she arrived, she said Owens handed her a sheet of paper with four or five paragraphs that he'd written for her.

The plan was for Shawna to go into another room at the office and to call Owens on a different line. Then she was to read his script over the phone as he taped it.

Shawna told Detective Lowe that she'd done just that, even though she knew it was full of lies.

It became the tape that Bob Owens played for Lowe over the phone on September 15.

Owens had shredded the script immediately after the phony call, Shawna continued, and then walked her out to her car. That was that.

"What would Mark say that Bob's reason for doing all this would be?" Lowe asked Shawna.

"I've asked him, and he can't imagine either," she replied. "He was absolutely flabbergasted at the whole thing."

"Now I got to figure out what's going on here," the detective said, "but [Owens is] talking about sending [you] to prison for probably the rest of [your] life for something. It's beyond me. I can't fathom what he's doing."

What Owens was doing was trying to set up Shawna on a murder-for-hire rap.

"The web of lies is completely unfathomable to anyone you tell," she tells New Times. "He told the police that I was about to pay a hit man, and he wanted me to be arrested with the $10,000 cash that I was getting for him -- which was the exact amount he'd told Bruce Lowe that I was going to pay the hit man. He was building this trap around me. And if he hadn't slipped up, I'll guarantee you I'd be in prison."

Maybe so.

But Owens' misstep was a doozie unbefitting his typical cover-all-the-angles mode of hustling his fellow man. Or woman.

Unknown to Owens, Detective Lowe had ordered 'round-the-clock surveillance of Shawna Branon after first hearing of her alleged murderous plans.

Neither Shawna nor Owens knew that undercover officers had followed her to the Edifice Lex building on the morning of September 15.

Precisely as Shawna had told Lowe, the undercover cops had seen Owens walk her to her car about 40 minutes after she'd gotten there.

The detective had paged Owens immediately after Shawna left the area. When Owens called back, he said glibly that he didn't know where Shawna had been calling from and hadn't seen her for some time.

But Owens had been caught in a big fat lie.

A few days after Shawna Branon's startling September 30 interview, a corrections officer at the federal holding facility in Florence heard a thump on a cell floor.

He walked over and saw Mark Branon lying in a large pool of blood. Branon had gouged his wrists vertically with a razor and was just conscious enough to tell the officer that he wanted to die.

According to police reports, he almost did.

Authorities found two letters that Branon had taped to a wall in his cell before he tried to kill himself.

One was to Shawna.

The other was titled: "Attention Police, Homicide Investigator Lowe," and it read like both a confession and an accusation.

"Robert Owens orchestrated the entire [attempted-murder] event," Branon's letter started. "He drove me to where Billie Rosen lived, and he even paid half of the ten grand to do it."

The letter ended with an apology to "Ms. Rosen's family," if not to the intended victim herself.

In May 2003, Mark Branon finally went on trial in federal court for drug smuggling, the two murder-for-hire plots and other charges.

The specter of Bob Owens hovered in the courtroom, with Branon's latest attorney Peter Claussen raising the defense investigator turned snitch's name whenever possible.

In his closing argument, Claussen told the jury: "The man who was behind the whole conspiracy involving Billie Rosen is free right now, continues to work as a so-called investigator for lawyers in Maricopa County.

And there's no interest, apparently, in doing anything about Bob Owens and his role in this, despite the evidence that was presented to this court from various government investigators that Bob Owens was tied to a number of criminal organizations. And there [were] a number of statements indicating that he could get things fixed. He could get people killed."

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin