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Murder-for-hire case goes to Appeals Court

by Canda HarbaughWestern News
| April 10, 2009 12:00 AM

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Seattle has agreed to consider re-trying a Libby man after he was sentenced in U.S. District Court last year on charges of arranging for his wife’s murder – a scheme that never materialized.

Shane Sichting’s defense filed for an appeal last April a week after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for using interstate communications to hire a man to kill his estranged wife. The court is scheduled to listen to oral arguments May 5 to decide whether or not to grant Sichting an appeal.

In a document filed in January, Sichting’s defense argued that testimony concerning Sichting’s prior violent behavior toward his wife should have been banned, that the government bribed its key witness, that the use of interstate commerce was not proven and that Sichting’s attorney failed to provide the standard of council that a defendant is constitutionally guaranteed.

Sichting allegedly paid his former employee, Ronald Morales, $35,000 to kill his wife, according to court documents. Morales told police that after he moved to Oregon, he believed that Sichting would figure out that he never intended to kill his wife. Instead, Sichting contacted him in Oregon months later asking him how plans were progressing, Morales said.

When Morales told police about the plot, the FBI had him set up a meeting between Sichting and an undercover Kalispell officer posing as a Mexican hit man. 

Sichting’s defense argued that Morales’ testimony should have been barred from the trial because he received substantial benefits for testifying. In addition, Morales only told police about the alleged plot when he was in jail on an unrelated charge. The defense argued that the FBI considered Morales “untrustworthy, self-serving and a criminal with multiple convictions for crimes of untruthfulness.”

For his testimony, Morales not only received immunity, but he was released early from jail, he kept the money that was allegedly involved, and he received a federal identification card that granted him benefits of U.S. citizenship, the defense argued. The defense also pointed out that Sichting’s wife withdrew a civil suit against Morales after she visited the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Testimony about Sichting’s character and propensity for violence made it “impossible for Sichting to obtain a fair trial on the merits of the charged crime,” the defense said.

In addition, the defense charged that the court should have acquitted Sichting because the government failed to prove that he used interstate communications to commit a crime before law enforcement became involved. 

Lastly, the error of Sichting’s attorney to not introduce the entrapment defense was so serious, his defense argued, that Sichting was deprived of his Sixth Amendment right to council.

Throughout last year’s three-day trial, Sichting admitted to exchanging money for a plan to kill his wife, but that he changed his mind and backed out of the deal.