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Judges reject Sichting's appeal

by Western News
| May 26, 2009 12:00 AM

A panel of three appellate judges last week denied the appeal of 40-year-old Shane Sichting of Libby, who is serving 10 years in prison for trying to hire someone to kill his estranged wife.

Sichting’s defense filed for an appeal last April a week after he was sentenced for using interstate communications to commit murder-for-hire. He had wired money to an Oregon bank account for that purpose.

In a brief memorandum issued last Wednesday, the panel denied all four of Sichting’s grounds for an appeal.

Sichting’s defense had argued that the court should not have allowed testimony about his tumultuous relationship with his wife, Sheilagh, because he was not being tried for prior “bad behavior.”

The Ninth Circuit Court wrote in its memorandum that considering the case as a whole, the questioned testimony was “harmless.”

“Even if the district court erred in admitting the testimony,” the memorandum read, “the jury was presented with an abundance of other evidence that independently established Sichting’s attempt to have Sheilagh killed.”

The court also denied that the prosecution’s star witness was given enough benefits to violate anti-bribery law, that Sichting’s council was insufficient for failing to introduce the entrapment defense, or that the prosecution failed to prove the element of interstate commerce.

“The telephone calls and wire transfers between Sichting and the individual he hired to procure a hitman were sufficient to support the jury’s finding that the interstate commerce element was satisfied,” the memorandum read.

Sichting paid his former employee, Ronald Morales, funds adding up to $35,000 between 2006-07 to kill his wife. Morales told police that he only planned to scam Sichting out of his money and believed Sichting would figure it out after Morales moved to Oregon and broke contact. Instead, Sichting called him months later asking how plans were progressing.

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 hitman.