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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Criminal Dimwits: The Murder-For-Hire "Mastermind"

     The three main characters in a murder-for-hire scheme are the mastermind, the hitman, and the target. Bit players include enablers, advisors, and hands-on accomplices. No category of crime features a wider variety, in terms of age, occupation, background and socio-economic class, than the murder-for-hire mastermind. One thing they have in common is the stupid belief they will get away with their homicides. They almost always get caught because their idiotic hitmen either leave evidence behind or can't keep their mouths shut.

Dr. Mavoltuv Borkuhova

     Dr. Mavoltuv Borkuhova, a 34-year-old Queens, New York physician, paid her cousin $20,000 to kill her husband, a Forest Hills dentist. On October 28, 2007, the hitman, Mikhail Mallayev, shot Dr. Daniel Malakov to death in broad daylight as he watched his 4-year-old daughter play in a public park near their home. The mastermind and her husband were in the midst of a bitter divorce and fight over custody of the child.

     In 2009, the hitman, whose latent fingerprints were lifted from the murder weapon's makeshift silencer, was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life. That year a jury found Borkukhova guilty as well. The doctor is serving a life sentence without parole.

Pastor Tracy "TB" Burleson

     Even for players caught up in a murder-for-hire drama, Tracy "TB" Burleson and his wife Pauletta, were an odd couple. They both had criminal records.The 44-year-old Houston area preacher had been convicted of mail fraud in connection with the theft of payroll checks. Pauletta had been charged in 1997, 2005, and 2006 with physically abusing the couple's two adopted sons by beating them with boards and extension cords. Found guilty in two of these cases, the 56-year-old pastor's wife received probated sentences. Tracy, quite the ladies' man, had a son from a previous relationship named Darnell Fuller. Rounding out this cast of oddballs was 32-year-old Tyonne Palmer-Pollard, the pastor's mistress. Palmer-Pollard, whille having an affair with the preacher, was also having one with his 20-year-old son, Darnell.

     Burleson's wife Pauletta knew her husband had a mistress, but had no idea he was plotting her murder so he could marry Tyonne. She also didn't know that the pastor had promised Darnell a piece of her $60,000 life insurance payout if he knocked her off.

     On May 18, 2010, at ten-fifteen at night, Darnell Fuller, a Texas Southern University pre-nursing student, walked up behind his stepmother in the driveway of her northwest Harris County house and shot her in the back of the head, killing her on the spot. After the execution style murder, the hitman entered the woods across from the house and came onto another street where Tyonne Palmer-Pollard picked him up and drove him to a place where he cleaned himself up. Later that night they disposed of the murder weapon. (Fuller later directed detectives to the gun.)

     For the pastor-mastermind, his son the hitman, and their mistress accomplice, the case unraveled quickly and two of them were indicted, arrested, and tried. The pastor was convicted of capital murder in September 2010 and sentenced to life without parole. Tyonne Palmer-Pollard went on trial in October 2011, and while convicted as an accomplice in the murder-for-hire case, received a light sentence of seven years. The defense attorney had successfully portrayed Tyonne as a hard-working nursing assistant who cared for her three children as well as a chronically ill friend. She had, according to her defense attorney, fallen in with some bad people. While obviously true, what kind of people fall in with bad people? The jury also found the accomplice guilty of tampering with evidence.

     Darnell Fuller, the hitman who confessed and testified against his father and their mistress, has yet to be tried. In return for Fuller's cooperation, the prosecutor is not seeking the death penalty or life without parole. As is often the case in murder-for-hire sentencing, masterminds are treated more harshly than their cold-blooded triggermen. This is because they are usually the first to confess and make a deal.  

Julio Perez

     In October 2011, a hitman and his accomplice pleaded guilty in San Benito, Texas to the murder of 39-year-old Sonia Perez. The accomplice in the March 31, 2010 murder, 21-year-old Daniel Castaneda, was sentenced to 35 years in prison for his role in the case. (Compared to Tyonne Palmer-Pollard, a stiff sentence.) The hitman, 37-year-old Daniel Lopez, received life without parole.

     According to the confessions of Castaneda and Lopez, the victim's husband, Pentecostal preacher Julio Perez, wanted Sonia Perez murdered for her $120,000 life insurance benefit. The accomplice supplied the handgun, and Lopez, the hitman, hid in the back of the third grade teacher's minivan. Lopez forced the victim to pull off a deserted road along a sugar cane field outside of Rio Hondo, Texas. It was there he shot her twice in the back of the head. Lopez committed this cold-blood murder on the promise of $25,000 from the life insurance payout.

     Preacher Perez, unless he makes a deal with the prosecutor, will go on trial next year for capital murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.   

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